All posts by quakersireland

In and Out the Meeting House

David Butler, Britain Yearly Meeting

A talk delivered at Ireland Yearly Meeting 2004. David is the author and illustrator of the definitive book on Quaker Meeting Houses in Ireland, past and present, which is about to be published.

These remarks are lightly-connected incidents in Quaker life, mostly from Ireland, gleaned from a life-time spent looking at meeting houses and reading about them, and from a mere five years enjoying Irish meeting houses. They include many small events, few of which one would wish to make permanent, but which I thought you might like to hear before they sink back into the sands.

Continue reading In and Out the Meeting House

‘All bloody principles and practices we do utterly deny’

by Christopher Moriarty

This article was published in Teaching Religious Education Issue 3 December 2008

Christopher Moriarty is Clerk of the Historical Committee of the Religious Society of  Friends in Ireland and a member of a group of volunteers who care for the archives and library of the Society at its headquarters in Ireland: Quaker House Dublin, Stocking Lane, Dublin 16. The library is open to the public on Thursday mornings from 10.30 am to 1 pm.

The Religious Society of Friends was founded by the 17 century Christian visionary George Fox.  Its members came to be known as ‘Quakers’.  Their beliefs were based firmly on the doctrine revealed in the Bible, and particularly on the teaching of Jesus Christ as recorded in the Four Gospels. They adopted a belief, in distinct opposition to the feelings of the times, that the meaning of the Commandment ‘Thou shalt not kill’ was unequivocal.  Even more important was the instruction of Jesus to ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you’.  As early as 1651, Fox was jailed for refusing to fight in the English Civil War.  William Edmundson, who established the Society’s first meeting for worship in Ireland in 1654, had served as a Cromwellian soldier but renounced violence soon after the end of hostilities in 1651.

In 1660, following the Restoration of King Charles II, Quakers put their views on non-violence in a formal declaration addressed to the king in person.  Known over the centuries as ‘The Peace Testimony’ its first paragraph reads as follows:

Our principle is and our practices have always been, to seek peace, and ensue it, and to follow after righteousness and the knowledge of God, seeking the good and the welfare, and doing that which tends to the peace of all.  All bloody principles and practices we do utterly deny, with all outward wars, and strife, and fighting with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever, and this is our testimony to the whole world.  That spirit of Christ by which we are guided is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil, and again to move unto it; and we do certainly know, and so testify to the world, that the spirit of Christ which leads us all into all Truth will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world.

The declaration was prompted in part from a legalistic angle. Loyalty to the king was required from all his subjects – disloyalty was treason and punishable by death.  To refuse to enlist in an army and fight for the king could be construed as treasonable.  Quakers were not engaged in any subversion of the legal status quo and insisted on the truth of their claim that they were loyal and law-abiding subjects.  The reasoning behind their refusal to bear arms therefore needed to be expressed very clearly.  For this and for a number of other points of principle, many Quakers suffered imprisonment.

The Williamite warfare in Ireland in the 1690s saw the first serious test of the peace testimony and the great majority of Quakers acquitted themselves honourably.  Four took part in the fighting and they were disowned by the Society.  Of far greater importance was the fact that Quakers gave help to people on both sides in the conflict.  This seems to have led to a recognition and respect rather than to any attempt at revenge by the victorious Williamites.

A hundred years later, the impending rising of 1798 brought about a vigorous campaign within the Society to take practical steps to ensure that its members would both privately and publicly renounce violence.  The all-Ireland National Meeting in 1797 agreed:

The Subject of some in profession with us having guns in their houses, which might be made use of for the destruction of mankind, as well as other instruments of a like nature, having come weightily under the consideration of Friends in the three provinces, this meeting, under a solid feeling, is of the judgement that all such should be destroyed, the more fully to support our peaceable and Christian testimony in these perilous times…..

A committee was appointed to visit Quakers around the country and make sure that they had destroyed their firearms.  At least one of them made a public display of his voluntary disarmament.  Joseph Haughton, a member of the committee, took his fowling piece to the main street in Ferns and broke it up.  Once again, the more positive – and extremely hazardous – practice of giving help to people on both sides of the conflict was followed in 1798.  But, with few exceptions, it seems that the reputation of Quakers was so well established that their communities survived the hostilities without reprisals being taken.

The 20th century, with two world wars, the War of Independence in Ireland and the Northern Ireland ‘Troubles’ imposed a succession of major challenges.  During and after both world wars, Quakers, amongst them a number of Irish members of the Society, were involved in two international movements.  The first was the Friends Ambulance Unit in which young men enlisted.  While they would not take up arms to fight any enemy, they were equally determined not to shelter from danger by staying away from the fighting.  The Ambulance Unit, serving only to give help to the wounded – without discrimination as to whether friend or enemy – was a solution to the dilemma.  The second came after the wars, when Quakers played an active role in bringing relief to those who suffered in the conquered countries – putting into practice the ideal of loving their enemies and establishing a reputation for their humanity.  They continue to lobby the United Nations and the European Union, through Quaker offices in new York and Brussels.

In Northern Ireland, from 1969 onwards, Quakers became deeply involved in a variety of efforts to achieve reconciliation between the parties in sectarian strife.  Quaker Cottage, on the outskirts of Belfast, was established to provide holiday breaks for families from both sides of the divide.  The essential was that adults and children who, in the normal course of things, would avoid each other, were brought together.  They discovered that the differences between them were remarkably few.  As with the broader thrust of a world-wide renunciation of violence, Quakers have not been so na�ve as to believe either their international work or the example of Quaker Cottage would convince a majority of people within a short time.  The point is that their devotion to the cause of non-violence has changed the thinking of many individuals, actually saved the lives of others and is an essential step in spreading the message of peace.

The Quaker House project in Belfast city was –and still is – a centre giving fulltime employment to a small number of Quakers with skills in bringing national and local political figures together and, in an uncounted number of cases, defusing difficult and dangerous situations.  It is easy to count the numbers of people who died during the Troubles.  While it is impossible to enumerate the numbers saved by behind-the-scenes actions, there is no doubt that Quaker House was instrumental in averting countless tragedies.  The need for unpublicised handling of such situations has meant that the institution rarely achieved public recognition for its achievements.

Another seminal activity in Ulster was the establishment of visitor centres, initially at the Maze and later at Long Kesh prisons.  The abhorrence felt by the involved Quakers towards the violent actions that had led to the imprisonment of the inmates, was equalled by their belief in the humanity of each and every one of them. The ideal had been expressed poetically by George Fox in the 17th century; ‘Walk cheerfully over the world, answering to that of God in every man’ and it continues to be a core belief of Quakers everywhere.  The visitor centres were places where the families who came to visit the prisoners could find shelter, relax over a cup of tea and, if they wanted, find someone willing to listen them.  The work of  the centres developed from an outside fringe activity to being accepted by the authorities who understood their value, not only in supporting people in great difficulties, but also in helping to keep families together and rehabilitate the prisoners when their eventual release came.

Meanwhile, in the Republic, individual Quakers, with official support from the Society, have been active in parallel activities to those of their northern counterparts in attempting to nurture a spirit of peace, even amongst people who are undergoing punishment for violent behaviour, often of an extreme nature.  Quakers, with other religious groups, have been active in establishing and staffing visitor centres in prisons.  At a more direct level, Quakers have been in the forefront of implanting AVP, the Alternatives to Violence Programme, which involves practical training sessions with prisoners.

This article gives some examples of the work undertaken by Irish Quakers towards sowing the seeds of peace and nurturing the rather delicate flowers that spring up.  Similar projects are taking place in all countries in which there are Quaker communities.  The Mission Statement of South Africa Quaker Peace Centre in Capetown gives an excellent summary of essentials that are applied throughout the world:

Our mission is to build a non-violent society where diversity is celebrated, the energies of conflict are turned into a positive transforming power and where the democratic rights of every individual are respected, protected and pursued.

Further Reading (more obtainable from ‘’)
Maurice J Wigham (2nd Edition 2006) The Irish Quakers, a short history of the Religious Society of Friends in Ireland Dublin: Historical Committee of the Religious Society of Friends in Ireland.

Richard S Harrison (1986) Irish Anti-war Movements 1824-1974. Dublin: Irish Peace Publications.

Glynn Douglas (1998) Friends and 1798: Quaker witness to non-violence in 18th century Ireland. Dublin: Historical Committee of the Religious Society of Friends in Ireland.

How I Read the Bible

Irene Ni Mhaille

A Dublin Monthly Meeting Seminar on February 20, 2006.

I have to admit that I didn’t really begin to read the Bible seriously until I arrived in West Africa, as a missionary, at the age of 30. Bible stories did not nourish my early childhood, as a Roman Catholic. Yet, the Bible, as something sacred, was always in the background of my consciousness from an early age. Certain facts about it were drilled into us in secondary school – that every part of it was inspired by the Holy Ghost, that therefore it was inerrant, and that the right to interpret it belonged to the Hierarchy. But this was somewhat off-putting and intimidating and since I wasn’t allowed to interpret it, it remained remote and irrelevant during my growing up, formative years.

When I decided to become a missionary in Africa at the age of 21, the daily reading of the Divine Office was part of my life. The Divine Office was Bible-centred but was chanted in Latin, five times a day. We covered the 150 psalms of the Bible each week. This chant had a beauty of its own and as I got to know the meaning of some of the psalms, I found them spiritually up-lifting and they provided a welcome respite in the midst of a busy working day. But because The Divine Office was chanted, not recited or simply read, and because it was in Latin, it remained remote and somewhat on a higher level to ordinary daily life, for me, so the temptation to enter into any kind of personal dialogue with the text was zero. I couldn’t really call that, reading the Bible.

But that was about to come. Nigeria where I worked first, as a missionary, was a British colony and the educational system was British. “O” Level Scripture formed part of the curriculum in Second level schools. As well as teaching her own subjects, each teacher had to take one religion class. I suddenly found myself in a crisis situation . Before I understood the Bible myself, I had to start teaching it! The idea was that I was supposed to present the text and use a Commentary to explain it. But any teacher knows that there is much more to teaching than taking hold of words on paper. It is particularly difficult to teach the Bible in a trans-cultural setting and if the students are intelligent and curious as many Nigerians are, the task is full of landmines. Meeting that challenge was the single biggest influence on how I read the Bible today.

Africa taught me, very quickly, and in a very stark way, that the Bible is basically a non-Western book. that favours imagery over facts. Through the insights of African clergy, laypeople and the students I taught, I began to understand that the spiritual message of Scripture is expressed in story and in symbol and can’t be taken literally. There is nothing trivial about this – quite the reverse. Since we don’t have human language to express inner reality and to talk to each other about the presence of, and the struggle with, the divine, deep in our own hearts, we must turn to images and stories. The Bible is a treasure house of these images of uprootedness, wandering, exile, and of arrival, new birth, yeast of risen life. These images echo our own spiritual yearnings and remind us all, young and old, that we are on a very special journey and that our destiny lies ahead. In this symbolic world , I became aware of the closeness of Old and New Testaments and of the way in which the images, symbols and stories of the Old, echo, resound, reverberate within the Old and are re-interpreted and re-echo throughout the New.

Stories, unlike literal facts, can be opened up into millions of meanings that enrich each other without any conflict as we each interpret them differently. This seemed to be the opposite to what I was taught in my childhood, when a literal, single, clear, inerrant meaning was given to much of the Bible. My conflict with the religion of my birth was starting! I was beginning to grow up spiritually and to realise that I could own my own thoughts about what the Bible might mean! A dangerous revelation for a Roman Catholic in the early 60s! This led me into a whole re-construction of the received doctrines of my youth. I had to ask myself, what does the Bible mean when it says that Jesus is “the son of God “or that “Jesus rose from the dead?” Through these questions, I was led gradually to find the human Jesus, the Jew, a man who with the help of the Hebrew Scriptures, came to understood the full meaning of living by God’s Spirit and who showed me that there is no greater goal for any human being.

Then, The Second Vatican Council took place, in the Catholic Church, in themid 60s and this allowed for a new openness towards Scripture and to accepting a lot of the critical studies of Scripture that were undertaken over several previous decades by Scripture scholars. However in 1967, the Civil War started in Nigeria and all missionary teachers had to leave. It was 10 years before I got back again.

The 10 years out of Nigeria gave me an opportunity to study what the Scripture scholars were saying. Just as I had found the human Jesus in Africa, now I was to find out, through the insights of Scripture scholars, what a human document the Bible was. As a result of historical criticism, we know now that both Old and New Testament have undergone a history of human transmission. Our previous understanding rested on historical misconceptions. Not only is the transmission of the text more complicated than we thought, but like the Kingdom of God ,as described by Jesus in the parable of the wheat and cockle, the Bible harbours evil as well as good. It must be read critically and with discernment, like everything else in life. Far from destroying my Faith in the Bible, I felt that this led me into a far more convincing way of understanding it and vindicated much that I had learnt in Nigeria, about a non-literal reading. For Quakers who always practiced a spiritual reading of Scripture, the impact of modern scholarship was less important but for Catholics, it questioned the whole authority structure of Biblical interpretation. I am now convinced that if we make false claims for the Bible, to-day, we do the Bible itself the greatest disservice.

The present debate about homosexuality is a case in point. Some Christians condemn homosexuality today on Biblical grounds while ignoring present day understanding of sexual orientation. The Book of Leviticus, for example, condemns homosexuality and it also says we should stone adulterers to death. Further, it says that women (but says nothing of men) who enter marriage in a non-virginal state should be stoned to death. But why if we no longer take Scripture literally about stoning adulterers to death, do some Christians concentrate on homosexuality for this literal interpretation of the Word of God? The answer to this question is, I believe, that the issue is not about homosexuality, as such, but is rather about how we read the Bible. Some continue to find ready-made, literal truths therein. But, surely the whole Hebrew/Christian religion, in its prophetic strain, is a gradual progression in understanding that the inner law of love replaces the law that is written on tablets of stone? Thus Jesus words about the woman taken in adultery and his similar words to the crowds, “And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” (Luke 12;57). We, women, moreover, have put up with a patriarchal assessment of what is right and wrong for centuries, in the name of Biblical truth so we can hardly be expected to turn to the Bible today for a readymade solution to our moral problems!

And so is the issue of peace in relation to the Bible an ambiguous claim. The Bible has some of the most up-lifting passages about peace : it is also the originator of religious hate. We cannot, it seems to me, reclaim the one without the other. In the Old Testament, the Hebrews called on God to curse their Canaanite pagan neighbours : There are several passages in the New Testament, notably in the Gospels of Matthew and John, in the Book of Revelation and Acts of Apostles, that have set in train an anti-Jewish polemic. I feel that if we become aware of Christian hatred of Jews in our own Christian tradition, then we can understand how any religion demonises another in its search for identity and how difficult is the way of peace. Without condoning recent Muslim violence in relation to cartoons of Muhammad, I can begin to understand it a little if I try to see it, in the context of the wider picture of religious violence of the past against Muslims, in which we Christians have, shamefully, been a part. Good and evil, like the wheat and cockle of the Gospel parable, grow together. This, for me, is the context of understanding peace as a constant struggle.

Finally, when I retired and settled in Ireland I found myself back in an authoritarian Church and I didn’t fit. Since I joined the Quaker community, I feel an extraordinary openness to The Spirit, that not only allows me to continue my spiritual journey, but challenges me to deepen it. I don’t find this an easy journey but it is really worthwhile. I am constantly amazed to find that George Fox who lived before the beginning of modern scriptural scholarship, was so much part of its insights. From what I have read so far of George Fox, he understood the Biblical notion of The Word of God as not just a word on paper but a living, creative, communication between Divine and Human. He called it “the light of Christ within”. The structures for worship that he set up in the 17th century, allow me ,today, to be faithful to new insights about the Bible, to listen and be enriched by the individual insights of those around me while at the same time living in the real world of modern Ireland and for that I am so grateful.

Ireland Yearly Meeting Epistle 2009

To Friends everywhere, Greetings!

Irish Friends have met from 22nd-26th July in 2009, rather than at our customary Spring-time. It has been a residential Yearly Meeting, in the Kings Hospital School where the Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) Triennial was held two years ago, and in similarly wet weather.

We have welcomed Friends from other Yearly Meetings including USA, Britain, Germany and Netherlands and Quaker international agencies, also particularly two Friends from Kenya and Georgia who have spoken eloquently of life in their country and their work as Quakers.

The Theme of Ireland Yearly Meeting was from Galatians 5, vv 22 & 23: ‘The Fruit of the Spirit is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control’. Our morning worship each day began with a meditation on one or two of these ‘fruits’, and it was inspiring to see how frequently throughout the Meeting the words of Friends on various topics related back to the guiding Theme.

The public lecture was given by John Dunston, Headmaster of Leighton Park, the Quaker School in Reading, UK. The title was ‘The Stranger who lives within thy gates’ and the speaker drew on particular insights from his Jewish background as well as his understanding of the practical application of Quaker testimonies.

There was evidence of the guidance of these testimonies in the eighteen Epistles received from Yearly Meetings world-wide. Likewise, much of the work being undertaken by Irish Friends at the present time shows the palpable inspiration of one or more Testimony, in particular the overseas work of Irish Quaker Faith and Action, the Peace Committee, the aims and ideals of the newly-formed EcoQuaker Ireland committee, and the beautiful handworked quilt which is but one outcome of the continuing cross-community work of Quaker House Belfast.

Regarding the ‘Why Violence’ campaign, we can report that the initial concern of a small number of Friends has become a catalyst for a much bigger Irish movement against violence, involving other churches and peace organisations.

During Yearly Meeting there have been nine well-attended special interest groups, healing group meetings, bible study and worship sharing, swimming and guided relaxation sessions. Excursions to places of interest filled a free afternoon and we enjoyed an evening performance of the thought-provoking Quaker play about John Woolman ‘On Human Folly’.

Before Yearly Meeting began we sang together the Quaker poet John Whittier’s beautiful hymn ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’. We take our leave from you, dear Friends, with his words :

‘Take from our souls the strain and stress,

and let our ordered lives confess

The beauty of Thy Peace’.

Signed on behalf of Ireland Yearly Meeting on 26 July 2009

Alan C Pim – Clerk

The stranger who lives within thy gates – IYM 09

A PDF of this lecture is available for download here.

Public Address given by John Dunston at Ireland Yearly Meeting
22 July 2009

Friends, Good evening, and thank you for that warm welcome.

What a privilege it is to be here. Yet at the same time, I could have good reason to feel something of an intruder at Ireland Yearly Meeting. For it is likely that everyone here is a Quaker, or if not everyone, then almost. Yet I am not a Quaker (though I believe I count as an Attender in England). Indeed, I’m Jewish, and deeply touched to have been invited to give this Public Lecture.

Anyone not familiar with the notion of Friendship among Quakers might be forgiven for thinking that just now, I am myself the stranger within thy gates. But all my experience of living and working amongst Friends over nearly twenty years has led me to the conclusion that Quakers, rather like Jews in fact, have a particular understanding of what it means to be the stranger, the other, and that as a result, they have an instinct for overcoming “otherness”. The concept of the stranger, among Quakers, becomes itself strange and almost unknown.

I want to thank especially our Friend Alan Pim, Clerk of Ireland Yearly Meeting, whom I had the great good fortune to meet in April 1990. Only one week earlier, I had started work as Head of Sibford, another of the Quaker schools in England, and it raised a few Quakerly eyebrows when within days I was off to Ireland for the biannual Conference of Heads and Deputies of Quaker Schools, held that year at Waterford. Alan and Sue very kindly put me up, the warmth and affection of their welcome immediately dispelling any anxiety I might have had, as a green, young Head, of being a stranger within their gates. I certainly never thought that one day I would be Head of Alan’s alma mater (you probably know that after some years at Newtown School, he came to Leighton Park in 1954). Alan of course made a most distinguished contribution to Leighton Park through his quiet, authoritative leadership; he was also, it seems, extremely agreeable company. Some things never change.

It is a privilege for me to address you this evening. There was an era when real contact between Jews and Christians only arose if it was time for another pogrom as the Crusades swept through Germany on their way to the Holy Land; later in the Middle Ages, the infamous disputations on the relative merits of Judaism and Christianity were destined only ever to have one outcome; much later still, Quakers themselves were repeatedly imprisoned for their heretical interpretation of the Christian message. I could go on, but I need not. For the very act of inviting the Jewish Head of a Quaker School to address Yearly Meeting exemplifies the openness and tolerance that characterise the Society. So I thank you for the opportunity to be with you today, and to share some reflections from what you might call an outsider on the inside, reflections on what Judaism and Quakerism have to offer a world which has still not learned how to love the stranger in its midst. And towards the end, I will introduce you to Nathan.

I had the good fortune to be spending much of the spring term this year in Oxford on sabbatical. So, having only been back at school for a matter of weeks, it seems right to begin with one brief tale out of school. Some of you will know of the Catholic boarding school which had a splendid refectory. Each day the boys would queue up for their lunch, occasionally trying to sneak an extra portion of chips or ice cream from under the nose of the caterers. One day, the large bowl of apples was adorned with a notice from one of the monks, which said simply: One apple only per pupil. Remember – God is watching. A little further along the counter was a huge basket of Danish pastries, into which one enterprising pupil had clearly stuck a corresponding notice: Take as many as you want. God’s watching the apples.

That seems to me to sum up admirably the theme of Yearly Meeting this year, or at least to reflect the qualities of the quotation from Galatians on the cover of the programme:  The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Those boys were clearly interested not only in the fruit of the spirit, but in more material fruit as well; they loved their food, took joy in securing extra portions of it, found peace in not being discovered, and gave the monks the opportunity to have their patience tried; their own generosity caused them to share extra pastries with their friends rather than leave them behind, to be perhaps thrown away; in this way, they showed both their faithfulness to the idea of not wasting the earth’s resources, and their self-control in keeping a straight face until back in the dormitory. Gentleness was harder to reconcile, until I realised that it was followed by and, the two words together being clearly a coded anagram of the monks’ desperate prayer to the Almighty on a Friday afternoon at the end of a tough Year 9 RE lesson: Send ten angels.


That anecdote takes me quite neatly to the substance of this address. I want to reflect on what education means to me as a Jew, and how Judaism responds to the concept of the stranger in our midst, and to the education of the young (but not only of the young), which has always been a spiritual endeavour of prime importance for Jews. No matter how harsh, or how unremittingly abject, were the material circumstances in which Jews were often forced to live, it was obligatory for the community to provide a school. It is as if the very faith of the Jews has been somehow inextricably bound up with education. In the central prayer of Judaism, the Shema, Moses himself requires of the Israelites that (you)

teach these things diligently to your children, speaking of them when you sit at home and when you walk on the road, when you lie down and when you rise up (Deuteronomy 6:7).

Education is indeed the very basis of any free society. We should not forget that before the invention of the alphabet, knowledge – and with it, power – were closely concentrated among those at the top of the hierarchical tree. One’s status and position in society were largely determined at birth. But once the alphabet had arrived, a system of using only twenty to thirty letters or characters, the concept of writing became available to all. With it came the spread of power, and dignity, and equality. It became much more credible then to claim that everyone was created in God’s image. And if that really was the case, where better to develop that understanding among the young than, ultimately, in a school?

Let me share a little of my family background with you. It may help you to understand why for me the concept of the stranger in thy midst is both permanent and constantly shifting in its definition.

How prophetic is that verse from Psalm 137: How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land? Throughout their long history, the Jews have found themselves repeatedly having to pick up the thread of their lives after expulsion from one home or another. Each time, and in every age, they have returned to this question, which has become symbolic not just of their music and worship, but indeed of their daily living and very survival.

The late nineteenth and the twentieth centuries were witness to an unprecedented increase in the number of refugees seeking to escape persecution and worse by fleeing to other parts of the world. This, in turn, created more widespread challenges among the already domiciled populations as well: the challenges of how to welcome the newcomers and then to live alongside them.

I am reminded of the story of the Viennese Jew who, in 1939, entered a travel agent’s office and said, “I want to buy a steamship ticket.” “Where to?” the clerk asks. “Let me look at your globe, please.” The Jew starts examining the globe. Every time he suggests a country, the clerk raises an objection. “This one requires a visa……… This one isn’t admitting any more Jews ……… The waiting list for that one is ten years……..” Finally, the Jew looks up. “Pardon me, but do you have another globe?”

The Jewish historical experience has a real resonance for this new era in our human relationships. From it, wider lessons may be learned: about the relationship between what we commonly call church and state, and more particularly, and with special relevance for young people in schools, how that experience may be drawn upon to help generate a tolerant, constructive and mutually beneficial approach to “the other”. How we deal with “the other”, the stranger, is likely to be a determining factor in the very future and survival of our world.

The Jews are a people who, for thousands of years, have been seen as “the other”. Yet the world continues to be shaped by their prophetic calls for human freedom, their unique mission, and their unflinching commitment to the one-ness of God and to the moral code deriving from that. The Jews have a particular responsibility, not only to survive (already one of the most baffling achievements of any people in history), but to keep alive that vision for the sake of the world. And a big part of that vision is not only the ideal of peace, but the recognition that education of the young is the prerequisite for achieving it. It is, as we know, through education that we come to understand the benefits of co-operation rather than conflict, of working together to achieve a common goal and a mutual respect. We need prophets as well as pragmatists.

You will all be familiar with that visionary passage in Isaiah: The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them…… (Ch.11) Three points about that short quotation: one is that it’s a fine ideal, inspirational and good, but it hasn’t happened yet, and, given the century we have lived through, is unlikely to any time soon. (Though you probably know the story of the zoo keeper who was able, with great satisfaction, to show visitors a cage in which a lion and a lamb were living peacefully together. “How do you manage that?” the visitors regularly asked. “Easy,” replied the keeper. “We just put a new lamb in every day.”)

The second point is that a few verses later, Isaiah continues: They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. “The knowledge of the Lord” – the essential requirement for the age of peace, and a recognition that such knowledge may take many forms, if it is to cover the earth.

And thirdly, the prophetic vision needs a practical programme of action to he realised. As I pointed out at the start, look how far we have already come, but here’s a passage from the Talmud, the rabbinic commentary on the Torah, which takes forward the ideal of peace in a devastatingly simple way: For the sake of the ways of peace, the poor of the heathens should be supported as we support the poor of Israel, the sick of the heathens should be visited as we visit the sick of Israel, and the dead of the heathens should be buried as we bury the dead of Israel. Our responsibility is to the world.

I was born a Jew, and despite a not unusual drifting into a smug scepticism while at university, I remain a Jew. I belong to the progressive Reform tradition which began in the German-speaking lands of the eighteenth century, and represent the first generation of my family to be born in England for some time. My parents fled there from Austria as refugees (they knew better than anyone what it was to be suddenly labelled as “the other”) after Hitler’s Anschluss in 1938.

Research into the family’s history has so far stretched back some nineteen generations to Rabbi Eleasar, who lived around 1450 in the German town of Neuss on the banks of the Rhine, writing poetry and lamentations on the destruction of the Temple. It is not impossible that a mere five generations before Rabbi Eleasar, his ancestors (and mine) had been among the Jewish community of England when they were all expelled by Edward I in 1290. (The Jews were not allowed back into England for just over 350 years, arriving in 1656. What a coincidence that this milestone in Anglo-Jewish history should have occurred at exactly the moment that Quakerism was emerging. In fact, it’s probably not a coincidence at all, but that would be the subject of another lecture.) I take particular pleasure in knowing that Eleasar’s grandson Jakob was the schoolmaster in the Jewish ghetto – the Judengasse – in Frankfurt early in the sixteenth century. For five and a half centuries after Jakob lived in Frankfurt, my family could have been found moving around in central Europe for reasons that are, sadly, all too familiar, settling by turns in areas we have come to know as Bohemia, Moravia, Transylvania, Romania, the Holy Roman Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Czechoslovakia, Austria, Hungary, and even some of the little states and principalities that, less than 140 years ago, were for the first time to become an entity known as Germany.

That catalogue of national and imperial labels is a reminder of the transience of political reality and the fragility of national identity. It also begs questions: when does the stranger in our midst stop being the stranger? How long does it take? How many other strangers have to arrive before the indigenous locals stop being regarded as strangers? How much of that perception is down to the passing of time, or to integration and assimilation, or to primitive prejudice?

I grew up in a home that felt European. I heard German spoken by my parents and by their friends. I learned directly what it meant for them all to have made their life in a new country, and how they tackled the eternal dilemma of the refugee, balancing the need to integrate and feel part of the new host community, with the desire not to lose the bearings provided by their own upbringing, values and culture. And even more acutely, what to convey to the next generation, so that it might be able to avoid the label of “stranger”?

When the Jews began to settle in Babylon after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE, they had a major decision to make. Would they establish a new home for themselves in this new land, learn the language, and immerse themselves in its society? Or would they regard their time as a temporary sojourn, of indeterminate length, and build a fence around their lives and activities in order to retain the familiar customs and language of their homeland? Which language and culture would reflect their main identity: Chaldean, or Hebrew? In the end, of course, both options were adopted by different groups.

The dilemma, however, is instructive. It has resonance among other groups which have found themselves in a parallel predicament, and with whose diasporas we are familiar today (Chinese, Indian, and Armenian, for example). The Jewish experience is instructive on two counts in particular: the length of time during which they have repeatedly witnessed to this dilemma and had to address it – around 2,500 years – and their unique sense of mission which derives, directly, from the exhortation of Jeremiah to

Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (29:7)

This meant that the Jews in a strange land had a duty to live in and for that land, to serve it and to contribute to the well-being of those who had now become their neighbours. They needed, also, to have something to say and sufficient numbers through whom to say it, much as the Quakers did in Pennsylvania in more recent history.

The Jews had to cope with complete dislocation when the Temple was destroyed, but used the opportunity to create one of the greatest innovations in all religious history: the synagogue, an institution where what had previously been considered the essentials of communication with God – priests, altar, Temple hierarchy, animal sacrifice – were found to be, after all, dispensable, rooted in another era that was now gone. The very word “synagogue”, deriving from Greek, or “Beth haKnesset” in Hebrew, simply means “house of assembly”, or meeting house – hardly an unfamiliar term among Quakers, and that, too, is no coincidence. They created a new way of living a Jewish life in a strange land, a way of retaining their dignity and their witness, as the land came to feel first less strange and, in time, their own. In Babylon they established a great centre of learning, whose academies and institutions were to have a profound influence on the subsequent development of Jewish thought and on its ethical contribution to the world.

In his visionary book “The Home We Build Together” (required reading, I would suggest, for all those engaged in the education of the young or in the attempt to create a more peaceful world where no-one can feel any longer a stranger in the midst of others), the Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, recounts an experiment carried out in 1954 by Muzafer Sherif, known as “The Robbers’ Cave”. It relates to two groups of boys brought to a summer camp in Oklahoma. Neither group knew the other, but spent the first week separately on team building exercises. After that, they came together through competitions, in which each team either won or lost: this generated much animosity, name-calling and the like, and the two groups even objected to having meals together. The next stage involved shared watching of films and joint social events, designed to break down the barriers: in the event, these became even more obstructive, and the aggression continued. Finally, a number of problems were put to the groups that threatened each group equally, for example a blocked water supply system, which they worked together to repair, or finding the money to hire future films once camp funds had run out. In each case, the two groups worked together, and celebrated together once they had overcome the problem together.

Of course, such outcomes have been identified in other sources and experiments too. It may not surprise a gathering like this, particularly of those engaged in the search to find the good – that of God – in everyone. But the study very honestly recognises that, although our natural inclination to reject, criticise, vilify, exclude, and eventually demonise “the other” seems to be an inescapable part of human nature, it can be overcome.

It can be overcome not by fine words and lofty ideals alone, though they certainly help, but by action together, by working on a common project that will be of benefit to both. In modern parlance, it’s a no-brainer, and we need to keep repeating this message which lies at the heart of all true religion and which is the outcome of all true education.

Let us think for a moment of what happened only a few months ago in London. The leaders of the G20 nations, including the most powerful men and women on the planet, were gathering at their summit for the team photograph, before spending the rest of the day saving the world for the next generation and future generations. We can only wish them success and God’s guidance in that endeavour. In schools, our lives are spent with the young, who will have to inherit the financial disaster we are already bequeathing them. As if they didn’t have enough to cope with in their childhood in various parts of the world: over a hundred million children have no schooling at all; by the middle of the next decade, universal primary education will still not be available in around a third of the countries of the world; in Somalia less than one child in five of primary age goes to school; the nine countries with the poorest record of primary schooling have less than three quarters of children attending, and they are all in Africa; fourteen of the fifteen countries with the highest rates of infant mortality (all over one hundred per thousand live births) are in Africa, and the other is Afghanistan; life expectancy is below age 50 in nineteen countries, of which eighteen are in Africa, and the other is Afghanistan. Isn’t it time we recognised even here the stranger in our midst?

Listen to the stories of Ben Okafor, a former child soldier from Nigeria, in order to begin to understand a little more about what lies in store for some children, even today. He has worked with all the Quaker schools in England, sensing the common purpose in trying to create a world in which children themselves are no longer the victims of “otherhood”.

How instantly this slur on our human race and human dignity could be alleviated by only a fraction of the millions, billions and trillions that have been instantly found by the G20 to prop up – as they had to – the world’s financial system in order to rescue its economic system. It is, just, possible that out of the current crisis may come a better understanding of our mutual interdependence, and not before time. You here, in this gathering of Quakers, in a country that has suffered from more than its fair share of “otherhood” and persecution, are the ones who, above all, can help the young to rise above their differences, and to discover the astonishing gifts that our world could offer, drawing spiritual strength even from adversity.

When my father had arrived in England as a young man, with little but the clothes he stood up in, he was interned, along with hundreds of other Jewish refugees from Austria and Germany,– as an enemy alien – on the Isle of Man. It’s hard to imagine how they must have felt. He was to lose his parents and his sister and much of his family in the camps of the Holocaust, and found himself in England, in that country of refuge, behind barbed wire himself. Some despaired. But most did not. In that camp was born the Amadeus String Quartet, and indeed a university was established by those writers and academics, musicians and philosophers, scientists and mathematicians, who had escaped Nazi-occupied Europe. With scarcely pencil or paper between them, they ran a programme of over forty lectures a week, reflecting a real triumph of the spirit. One of these great men told a parable that shows how limited can be our understanding of what could be in store for us. It’s recounted in a book by his son, Ben Zander, where we hear of four young men at the bedside of their father, who is dying. The father manages to convey to them that a vast treasure is buried out in their fields, but not exactly where, despite their pleas. Straight after his death, the sons are out, digging away deeply and energetically from one end of the estate to the other – to no avail. They find nothing. The next season, however, the farm yields the best harvest it has ever done.

Isn’t it wonderful how, in the most surprising circumstances, little miracles can occur? Of course, they’re not great miracles, the sort that established religions love to bandy around like credentials of spiritual respectability; they’re the little miracles that the young in our schools often surprise us with. Certainly that’s true within the silence and ministry of Quaker worship.


And what do Quaker schools have to say about the stranger in our midst? Indeed, what does it mean when a school calls itself Quaker? We all know the importance of signs and symbols. Most religions have a generous helping of such things, aids to worship perhaps, or to communicating with God, or to expressing the inexpressible. That, I suppose, is already one area where Jews and Quakers would understand each other particularly well, since their places of worship – the synagogue and the meeting house – are invariably devoid of any form of representation of the divine.

You won’t be surprised to learn that many people, on coming to see Leighton Park, or any of the other Quaker schools, for the first time, wonder what it’s all about. They’re normally familiar with the cereals which, of course, have nothing to do with Quakers, but everything to do with the fact that the Quaker “brand” was regarded as a good or unique selling point. There must be many Irish examples of this, but within England, the biscuits of Huntley and Palmer (from Leighton Park’s town of Reading), the chocolate of the Cadbury’s and the Fry’s, the shoes of the Clark family and the mustard made by Reckitt and Colman, the table water biscuits from Carr’s and the matches of Bryant and May (which until not so long ago, I believe, included the words The Quaker Match Company on each box) – all these represented something different from the norm. These were reliable products, not made by the exploitation of human labour and not unreasonably priced. They came from companies that treated their workers well, unusually so in the industrial climate of the nineteenth century particularly. Their economic success did not go unnoticed.

There exist many earlier examples of how Quakers, strangers living within the gates of establishment society, had been perceived, and not always positively. James Walvin, in his fascinating study of the material success and moral underpinning of Quaker businesses, quotes a late seventeenth century rival who wrote bitterly that Quakers had Grip’d Mammon as hard as any of their Neighbours; and now call Riches a Gift and a Blessing from God. Yet true it is that many of the values that lay at the heart of those great Quaker businesses have now been accepted as good business practice worldwide. The language used may be different, but the understanding of what is fundamentally important is not – it may be rare to find a multi-national referring to that of God in their workforce, but it would be no less rare to find one that did not value its employees as its most vital resource. How gratifying to find that the practices of the strangers have now become the customs of the majority. We should all take heart from that.

Quaker schools, too, dared to go where education had not gone before. In their adventurous early approach to the curriculum, and more recently in their ability to welcome all young people as equals, whatever their background, lie two of the distinguishing features that enable the spirituality and tolerance of young people to be developed for the benefit of everyone, and for communities to be created in which there are, quite simply, no strangers. Many of those features jump out as negatives initially: aspects of educational provision or religious provision that you might readily expect to find in a school, but won’t in a Quaker school, such as military training (an all-too common feature of many English public schools), a strongly hierarchical structure, a regular framework of liturgy or even a chapel or a chaplain. It would be too easy, but wrong, to equate the absence of those elements with somehow a denial of something essential for the educational or physical wellbeing of the pupils, but the evidence exists to show that it’s actually the reverse. Quakers have always been very good at questioning the accepted line, the received wisdom, and at asking “Why?” or even more saliently, “Why not?”, questions which have driven astonishing achievements in social reform over the years. I will refer to a third challenging question, “So what?”, later on.

Let me put this into context. What on earth were Quakers up to when they began their radical re-interpretation of Christianity and the Truth it represented in the middle of the seventeenth century? Just think how far we have come, since the days of the English Revolution that gave birth to Quakerism. That was a time, if ever there was one, when dire consequences were attached to being a stranger, a member of the wrong tribe, the other, whether Royalist in the face of supporters of the Commonwealth, or vice versa, or indeed a Catholic or a Protestant in the wrong company. How brave, how far-sighted, were those groups which sprang up at the time, small, religious groups, visionary and sectarian, of whom the Quakers are the great survivors. Yet they could not reconcile what they saw as the teachings of Jesus with the contemporary practice of the established Church or indeed of any of the Church hierarchies. Professed faith and actual practice did not match. Violence and Christianity did not, to their mind, sit comfortably together. One remark of George Fox remains as apposite today as it was then. In the vernacular of the time: Christ saith this, and the apostles say this – but what canst thou say? It is this focus on the individual’s response to God that seems almost to transcend the clay-footed development of dogmatic, institutionalised religion, but which at the same time ensured that Quakers would always be seen as outsiders. At considerable personal risk, they stood up for the truth, for a truth they perceived as submerged beneath the waves of hatred and violence that engulfed the land. And that truth has been expressed by Quakers consistently over the centuries, drawing the attention of mankind to our common heritage with a profound humility and a readiness to accept – or at least to hear openly – the views and insights of those with whom one disagrees, whether in large things or small. Duncan Wood, a pupil and teacher at Leighton Park School, expressed it well in the 1960s: National, racial and religious differences, he wrote, have not destroyed our common humanity but they have given it different faces which may tempt us to forget that all things that really matter, life and death, birth, love, joy and sorrow, poetry and prayer, are common to us all. In the end, there is no better starting point for the salvation and healing of the world, or “Tikkun Olam”, as Jewish tradition would put it in Hebrew, and the genuine welcoming of the stranger within our gates.

Of all those groups from the time of the English Civil War, it is only really the Quakers who have survived to our day. One reason may well be the persecution which they suffered continuously. As we know, there’s nothing like a bit of persecution to help a minority thrive and survive. Yet Quakers never lost their self-esteem, recognising that we need to show ourselves a degree of love, because until we can do that, what chance have we of loving our neighbour? Here again there’s a point of contact with Jewish teaching, since that great commandment that we should love our neighbour as ourselves appears first in Leviticus 19:18, in scriptures with which Jesus would have been very familiar as a practising Pharisaic Jew. He would also have known the even more poignant exhortation in the Old Testament, later in the same chapter of Leviticus: The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt – a reminder of the epic journey from slavery to freedom that has inspired humanity for three and a half millennia.

(By the way, did you know the three reasons that prove Jesus was Jewish? Well, by the time he was thirty, he was still unmarried and living with his mother; he went into his father’s business; and his mother thought he was God.)

Let me come now to the elements of Quakerism that I see as fundamental to its witness and to its vision of inclusiveness, the antidote to rejection of the stranger, and which all have a daily, almost tangible impact on the schools which espouse Quaker values: worship, non-violence and social reform.

The heart of Quakerism is of course our coming together for worship: meeting for worship is where we start, and where we stop. We start there, because we come together in silence, in the presence of God, not with a shopping list of prayers and requests for an already pretty busy deity, but with an open heart and mind, ready to listen for what God may be requiring of us. It’s surprising how often ministry can trigger a whole chain of thoughts and even other ministry, from pupils of so many backgrounds. What George Gorman called the amazing fact of Quaker worship, becomes a reality among hundreds of young people each week, of whom only a tiny proportion might be from Quaker families.

That is the miracle. It remains for me as Head a constant challenge: how to convey the experience of four hundred young people, teenagers, from a score of nationalities and more than a handful of religions, including also a significant and healthy number of doubters and out and out atheists, all ready to contribute to the silence of the meeting by their own silence, and, perhaps even more remarkable, to listen with empathy and openness to the very personal testimony that often characterises ministry from their peers. No giggling, no shuffling and shifting, no provocative counter-ministry: just the proof of the good in young people that can be released when, for all their different religious, racial, national, ethnic and linguistic backgrounds and idiosyncrasies, which in other environments might be the cause of mirth and mockery, they are simply accepted as an indispensable part of a community of equals. No strangers within our gates here: we’re either all strangers, or none of us is. It redefines what a school might be. As The Good Schools Guide wrote recently of one of the Quaker schools (though it could, I think, have been written of any of them): More schools would do well to follow (this) model…. We found it one of the most distinctive schools we’d visited and came away with a renewed sense of hope for the future.

The Quaker imperative of responding to “that of God” in everyone creates an environment of tolerance, honesty and integrity that makes for a distinctive type of school community, one in which, from the outset, it is accepted that God may be sought in ways other than our own, ways whose insights might even have something valuable to teach us. And the worship of God, based on silent listening and waiting, is a spiritual experience that draws together those of many different faiths, and offers a non-material place of peace and a refuge to those who deny a faith and to those who feel they cannot yet know if they have a faith or not, a not uncommon position for the young to take.

Moving now to non-violence and peace, we all know that they can be rather like motherhood and apple pie. Who would admit to being against them? It’s rather like the constant drive in our schools to “raise standards”. I’ve yet to come across a local authority or to hear from the government that they are working hard to lower standards. But for Quakers, peace is something much more fundamental than an absence of war. Far from retreating into a disingenuous utopia, they have found ways to use their energies to alleviate suffering, without taking one side and thereby rejecting the other.

Up in the hills above Belfast, directly overlooking the urban border between the Catholic and Protestant enclaves of the city, stands a little house, quite isolated, known simply as Quaker Cottage. Here, Quakers ran a crèche for mothers and toddlers from both sides of the divide, whose men folk would be spending their days or nights as paramilitaries. While the fathers did what real men do, the mothers – Catholic and Protestant – met and talked in the cottage on the hillside. And their little children played together with “the other”, too. It was a small but significant gesture, a reflection of the Quaker peace testimony in action.

When I visited Quaker Cottage and saw these toddlers, I was reminded of the story of the starfish, which I’m sure you all know. Walking along the sea shore, which was covered in marooned starfish, a man came across a woman who was bending down to throw them, one by one, back into the sea. “This beach must have thousands upon thousands of starfish on it,” he said to her. “What difference can it possibly make if you save that tiny number?” She smiled at him, picked up another and tossed it into the sea. “It’ll make a difference to that one.”

But how do we translate such high ideals into a school context? We all know how much schools generally pride themselves on their “good discipline”, when what they really mean is tight control. Real discipline, for children or for adults, but best learned of course as a child, comes from within. It is only through self-discipline that true tolerance of the other can be achieved. Here is a passage by John Reader, former Head of Great Ayton School: The Quaker emphasis in education probably lies in non-violence, in participation and in caring. Not only to run the school without violence, but to produce young people who will feel a concern to reduce the level of violence in the world. Not to impose the aims of the school on the pupils, but to lead them to their own acceptance of these aims, to a share, however, small, in its running and a pleasure in its successes, to find that of God in every pupil.

Finding that of God in every pupil, and then, even more importantly, responding to it, is the challenge which, when met, enables a school to dispense with some of those trappings which might be thought essential to the smooth maintenance of order and discipline, replacing them with the trust which is so often denied to young people, and which enables the very concept of the stranger to disappear. If it can vanish from a school community, then there is yet hope that it can, one day, disappear from the wider world.

Now, social reform. Does anyone here know who is on the back of our current English £5 banknote? You may already know that it’s Elizabeth Fry. She was a brave woman, going into women’s prisons, which were at the time unimaginably awful, to read the Bible to the women and to teach them to read for themselves. You’ll see if you look closely that there is a picture of just that happening, not only to the women prisoners, but to their children as well, who, it seems, regularly had to accompany their mothers to jail if there was nowhere else for them to go. Elizabeth Fry led the cause of prison reform. Her work is not yet done, but derived directly from the Quaker testimony to equality, equality of worth of every human being before God, whatever state they were in, and however they might have lost direction in their lives. That natural humanity shines through. It’s the sort of vision that young people rightly have. They want to make a difference. They have no hesitation in telling the adults what’s wrong with the world they’re going to inherit, and they want to do something about it. They don’t see the differences between people that adults see. How much we could learn from them about welcoming the stranger.

Two years ago, we marked in England the 200th anniversary of the Bill that was supposed to abolish the slave trade. It is – for obvious, establishment, reasons – little known that nine out of the twelve members of the Committee leading the movement were Quakers. We know all too well that slavery has not yet been abolished throughout the world. There is much work to be done. The recent visit of President Obama to the coastal slave stations in Ghana could yet represent a turning point in the world’s understanding of our human interdependence. Not for nothing have he and his wife made it possible for their daughters to have a Quaker education.

A Quaker education: I’ve tried to give an indication of what it can mean and how it can help young people see the stranger not as the other but as a friend. Remember, though, that in most Quaker schools perhaps no more than 5% of pupils are in fact from Quaker backgrounds. All of us involved in Quaker education find ourselves trying to listen, to explore ways of resolving conflict peacefully, to be unremittingly hopeful in creating community in our schools and in the wider world, and in welcoming “the other”.

Let me share with you, to end this part of my reflections, the insight of Caroline Graveson on what the school curriculum should include:

I may reach God through Keats, you by Beethoven, and a third through Einstein. Should not education to the Christian mean just this – enlarging and cultivating the country of God; and the subjects on any school timetable be thought of as avenues to an increasingly fuller life in God?

“The country of God…..An increasingly fuller life in God”: Caroline Graveson sums it up admirably, for the urge to religious belief must be one of the strongest of all human urges, one that has withstood the test of the most ruthlessly atheistic of dictatorships, as well as the ferocious efforts of those who have sought, and continue to seek, to subvert the innate goodness of the deistic concept. The terrible suffering inflicted by those of one faith on those of another, and even by those of different branches of the same faith on each other, has hardly helped mankind to perceive the truth. The fuller life in God has the capacity to incorporate many interpretations, reflecting the story so well told by Gerald Priestland of the climbers on the mountain, on several faces of it, who, only when reaching the summit, discover each other at the same time as they discover that the view from the top is the same, whichever route they chose to get there. In our increasingly fractured society today, where just now Moslems, particularly, are on the receiving end of so much suspicion and hatred, and demonised even as they dwell peacefully among us, we would do well to remind ourselves of the notion of the country of God. For if God is to mean anything, we must recognise that those whom we perceive to be the stranger are also made in His image. What human arrogance it is, to imagine that we can define the image of God. This may just be the age in which we can find the humility to challenge that centuries-old assumption.

I once had a set of prospective parents visiting the school. Towards the end of our meeting, they clearly had one unspoken question which they were diffident, even embarrassed, about asking. In the end, they did. “Look,” said the mother, “It’s like this. I’m Protestant……” “And I’m a Catholic,” interrupted the father. “Is that going to be a problem here?” Where else should their son go, I replied, with a Protestant mother and a Catholic father, but to a Quaker school with a Jewish Headmaster?


Now, earlier this year, I found something in the press which seemed to have a certain resonance for this particular gathering. It was the haunting advert for one of the world’s great wristwatches, which claims that you never actually own [this particular watch], you merely take care of it for the next generation. And that’s surely it. This is what it’s all about. What we’re all engaged in is not just preserving lifeless technology, but handing on to the next generation our spiritual understanding of the world and its people in good health, having perhaps contributed a little to its earthly development. When I asked the question “So what?” earlier on, this is what I am referring to. What difference does it all make, in the end?

One answer was provided for me just a few weeks ago by one of our parents, a Ugandan mother working at the United Nations in Vienna, married to an Austrian. On a recent visit to the UK, she was subjected to the sort of lengthy and searching questions at passport control to which she has had to become accustomed. As it went on, she found herself telling the customs officer all about the Quaker education her son was receiving, and about the unexpectedly natural affection and respect with which he was treated by everyone. The man behind the desk had vaguely heard of Quakers and had thought that they were generally good people. The interview may not have been shortened as a result of the conversation, but he certainly learned far more than he had expected when he saw just another African face in the queue. So what? That’s what. It was a genuine starfish moment.

Let me come now to Nathan, who answers the question perfectly. This is not the Nathan made famous in the anthem by Handel, where the prophet plays second fiddle to Zadok the Priest; but another Nathan, who became quite well-known during the Enlightenment in Germany, but whose time is, I think, yet to come.

Nathan? Or, as he is better known, Nathan the Wise. Nathan der Weise. He is the eponymous character in the eighteenth century play by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing.

Lessing was born in 1729, and was already a well-known critic and dramatist when he met and became a close friend of the great Jewish philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn, grandfather of the composer Felix, whose bicentenary we celebrate this year. Lessing is one of the best-known representatives of the Enlightenment. He was a brilliant scholar, a formidable debater, and a tireless campaigner against prejudice. He had written his play, The Jews, in 1749, before he met Mendelssohn, describing it as the outcome of serious reflection on the shameful oppression endured by a nation which, I should have thought, a Christian cannot contemplate without a kind of reverence. It had been written in the ambivalent climate of Frederick the Great’s “Charter Decreed for the Jews of Prussia” of 1750, which promised the Jews closer cultural, economic and political ties with the state and, for the first time, the status of actual subjects, but at the same time revealed considerable contempt and distaste for them, as well as a desire to limit the competition they might afford to the Prussian Christian business community.

What was startling and original about Lessing’s The Jews was the sympathetic portrayal of the Jewish main character, known as the Traveller (whose Jewish identity is, however, not known for most of the play). He rescues the Baron from highway robbers who are initially assumed to be damned Jews but who turn out to be employees of the Baron himself. The Baron offers the Traveller his daughter’s hand in marriage, but the Traveller has to refuse, explaining I am a Jew. He also turns down an alternative financial reward offered. By the end, the Baron is embarrassed by his earlier slights against Jews in general: Oh, how commendable the Jews would be, he exclaims with inadvertent irony, if they were all like you! to which the Traveller gently replies: And how worthy of love the Christians, if they all possessed your qualities. The Traveller also states that he asks nothing more than that in future the Baron should reach less harsh and generalising judgements about his people (and by extension, to our modern sensibilities, about anyone regarded as “the other”, the stranger in their midst).

Thirty years later, another play by Lessing became known as a parable of tolerance and reason in the search for religious truth. Nathan der Weise, first published in 1779, brings together a Jew, a Christian and a Moslem whom we see clearly as representatives of their religions. The centre point of the plot is the story, told by the Jew Nathan to the Moslem Saladin, of the opal ring which had the power

To make the owner loved of God and man
If he but wore it in this faith and confidence.

The ring, also conferring leadership of the house and the family, was passed down from generation to generation, until it reached eventually a father who loved all his three sons equally and could not decide which one should inherit the ring. Secretly he has two exact replicas made. Each son receives one ring with his father’s blessing. After the father’s death, of course, each claims to have the true ring and to have inherited the father’s mantle.

But all in vain, explains Nathan, the veritable ring
Was not distinguishable –
Almost as indistinguishable as, to us,
Is now – the true religion.

Nathan goes on to explain to Saladin that unless each of the three brothers, by his love for the others and by his behaviour, could make himself indeed loved of God and man, then it was entirely possible that the original ring had in fact been lost, and that the father had had three replicas made. Splendid! cries Saladin. And we then hear Nathan’s final explanation: each son was to believe he had inherited the true ring, and should therefore treat the others with affection rather than prejudice:

Let each one strive
To gain the prize of proving by results
The virtue of his ring, and aid its powers
With gentleness and heartiest friendliness,
With benevolence and true devotedness to God.

Nathan becomes the spokesman for the true ideals for the Enlightenment (surely even more relevant today): tolerance, brotherhood, love of humanity, and, in religious terms, the understanding that all faiths come ultimately from one God. This, at a stroke, undermined the concept of the superiority of one religion over another, and with it any notion that any religion had the right to force itself on the adherents of another.

So I like to feel that we all here are walking in Nathan’s footsteps. Both Nathan and Saladin were outsiders, strangers, in the midst of the Christians, yet they were the first to perceive what Quakers take for granted. We all find ourselves in the position where we can re-interpret the Truth as we learn more about it. We should perhaps always keep in mind the words engraved in 1891 above the main gate to Harris Manchester College, Oxford, where last term I spent my sabbatical: To Truth, To Liberty, To Religion, three concepts that are the cornerstone of our humanity, and, if we choose to acknowledge it, the underlying basis for the acceptance of each other.

The title for this lecture is drawn from the Book of Deuteronomy, chapter 16, at a point in the narrative where the Israelites are enjoined by God to keep the feast of tabernacles for seven days during their wandering in the desert on the way from slavery in Egypt, a journey which culminated in the giving of the Torah. Rejoice in your feast, you, and your son, and your daughter, and your servants, and the Levite, and the stranger, and the orphan, and the widow, who are within your gates. The huts in which they slept were temporary and fragile constructions, reflecting the very precariousness of their existence. Yet even here, they are commanded to look after the vulnerable in society, which is at the heart of Judaism, and indeed of Quakerism too. As Konrad Braun wrote: Enormous is the amount of wrong in the world….Love, mercy and pity command us to do our best to right these wrongs, to oppose iniquity and to see more justice done to those who suffer from injustice.

Nathan would, I am sure, have felt in sympathy with this, and with St Benedict who stated, in his Little Rule for Beginners, that he wanted to establish a school for the Lord’s service. That, put so simply, is the way to nurture the spirituality of youth, to foster the idealism of the next generation, to care for the stranger within our gates,  and, in the words of Moses Mendelssohn himself, to leave the world a little better for our sojourn in it.

* * * * * * *

References and Sources:

Christian faith and practice in the experience of the Society of Friends, London 1960

The Economist, Pocket World in Figures, London, 2008

Hermann Levin Goldschmidt, trans. David Suchoff, The Legacy of German Jewry, New York, 2007

George H. Gorman, The Amazing Fact of Quaker Worship, London, 1973

The Holy Scriptures, Philadephia PA, 1976

Peter Jarman and Eva Tucker, eds., Patterns and Examples: Experiencing the Spirit of Other Faiths, York 2005

Paul A. Lacey, Growing into Goodness: Essays on Quaker Education, Wallingford PA, 1998

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, “Die Juden”, Saemmtliche Schriften, ed. K. Lachmann, trans. M. Gelber, Leipzig, 1853, quoted in Mendes-Flohr and Reinharz, 1980

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Nathan the Wise, trans. W.Jacks, Glasgow, 1894

Ralph Lucas, ed., The Good Schools Guide, London, 2009

Moses Mendelssohn, Jerusalem, trans. M. Samuels, London, 1838

Paul Mendes-Flohr and Jehuda Reinharz, eds., The Jew in the Modern World: A Documentary History, Oxford, 1980

John Reader, Of Schools and Schoolmasters: Some thoughts on the Quaker contribution to education, London, 1979

Jonathan Sacks, The Home We Build Together, London, 2007

James Walvin, The Quakers: Money and Morals, London, 1997, quoting The Snake in the Grass; or Satan Transformed into an Angel of Light, London, 1697

John Howard Yoder, For the nations: essays evangelical and public, Cambridge, 1997

Benjamin Zander, The Art of Possibility, Boston, 2000

History of Grange Meeting

Extracts from “Grange Meeting: a Historical Sketch”

by George R Chapman, written for the Tercentenary in 1960, with subsequent additions

This booklet was first published in 1960 for the tercentenary of Grange Meeting, and re-issued with some additional material in 1984. Some copies are still available from the Clerk of the Meeting. What appears here is a version abridged for the Yearly Meeting website. Publication on the website follows the interest shown in the Religious Society of Friends as a result of the celebration in 2004 of the 350th anniversary of the first Quaker Meeting for Worship in 1654.


“Robert Turner having, about the year 1657, been instrumental to the convincement of a few who lived at Grange, near Charlemont in the Province of Ulster, this year, their numbers being considerably increased through the labours of other travelling Friends, a meeting was settled there.” (1)

“1660 or 1662 a meeting was settled at Upper Grange near Charlemont.” (2)

William Edmundson, the apostle of Quakerism to Ireland, had already been largely responsible for the commencement of several Friends Meetings in Ulster prior to this date. The first meeting was held in his own house in Lurgan in 1654. Others settled soon after were Ballyhagan, Toberhead (Co. Londonderry) and Lisnagarvey, also one or two meetings in Co. Antrim and Co. Cavan.

The missionary impulse of early Friends was very evident as a continuous stream of visiting ministers [Quakers who were respected by their congregations for their preaching] from England came with messages to strengthen those who were already “convinced” or to declare “truth” to any inquirers they could contact. It is just possible that William Edmundson and Richard Clayton (a visiting Friend from England) may have made an impact on some individuals living near Redford, Co. Tyrone, as Rutty tells us that in 1654 from Lurgan they travelled northwards on foot to Coleraine and Londonderry returning via Strabane, Ornagh, Dungannon and Charlemont “publishing truth in the streets” of some of the towns and making contacts with those who would receive their message until they came to Margery Atkinson’s house near Kilmore, Co. Armagh, where a meeting was settled later known as Ballyhagan (3) and moved to Richhill in 1793.

Grange is a common place name in Ulster, there are at least ten Granges in Co. Antrim and several others in Co. Armagh. To distinguish our Grange from Grange near Toomebridge, Co. Antrim (where a meeting was already established), Friends in Dublin called the farthest one, which was in the south west corner of Co. Antrim, north of Lough Neagh “Low Grange” [or Lower Grange] and our Grange “Upper Grange”.

The fort of Charlemont was an important military garrison, guarding as it did the lower waters of the Blackwater River and the approach road to Co. Tyrone. Round this fort the town of Charlemant clustered and on the northern side of the river Moy [was] founded in 1764. In the early Quaker records our Grange is frequently referred to as “Grange near Charlemont” or “The Meeting beyond Charlemont”.

Since the beginning of the seventeenth century conditions in Ireland had been very unsettled. The flight of the Earls was followed by the Plantation of Ulster when English and Scottish Protestant settlers were given grants of land provided they fulfilled certain conditions. The rebellion of 1641, centred chiefly in Co. Tyrone, was a determined attempt by the natives to regain control, and its subsequent overthrow left the country unsettled and impoverished and life generally was very difficult for the new settlers. It was from among them that the first converts to the new quaker movement were drawn.

The rebellion of 1641 in lreland was associated with the Great Civil War in England and Scotland, so that fighting did not cease until the last Castle surrendered in Co. Cavan in 1653….. When the early Friends accepted the tenets of Christian pacifism from George Fox, they were not ignorant of the terrors of war, they had seen its results only too closely.

A resort to arms had taken place in all three countries to settle disputes that concerned religion as well as political power… [Quakers] themselves had mostly been brought up under the Church of England, and obliged by law to attend its services. They had lived to see its two chief men, the King and the Archbishop (4) tried and executed, and the prayer book service forbidden to be read in public under legal penalties. Those who began to meet regularly here 300 years ago prayed not only for sins forgiven, but also for new courage to meet the difficulties of life. They also prayed that Christ would show them, when all great men and churches seemed to have collapsed, what kind of church and worship He would have them follow.

It seems clear that they were showing real courage in setting up their separate meeting [about that time]. King Charles II, before leaving Holland, had promised freedom to tender consciences. It was not known how this would be interpreted by the new Government. In fact, not so long after the King’s return, the outbreak of the Fifth Monarchy Rising in England caused the authorities to arrest large numbers…. on suspicion. Among these we find, according to Fuller’s Sufferings, that 124 Quakers were imprisoned in Ireland in 1660, 135 in the following year, but in 1662, only 47. As no list of names has been preserved, we do not know if any Grange Friends were among them……

The very early records of Grange Meeting have not been preserved and so it is not possible to trace in detail the very early history of the meeting. From what references are available it seems pretty certain that those who were “convinced” in and around Grange were members of a closely knit community and most of the first families associated with the meeting intermarried amongst themselves. Two of the early members of the Meeting at Grange, William Stockdale(6) a Friend in the ministry, and Thomas Francis, removed their dwelling from Charlemont to the city of Londonderry to encourage and help those who had been convinced and were meeting together there. They remained there for about two years and Rutty tells us “those who had been convinced in that place proved like the stony ground in the parable, soon withering; and the said two Friends being discouraged from staying, returned to their former place of abode so the meeting (in Londonderry) ceased.”(7).

One of Friends earliest testimonies was against the payment of tithes or other Church dues, and payment in kind was forcibly taken in lieu of the amount levied. It frequently happened that what was taken was in excess of this amount, but Friends do not appear to have offered any violent opposition to such seizure of property as it was part of their teaching to offer the other cheek… but it must have been very tantalising to see the hard earned fruits of their labour taken in this way. It was one of the duties of the meeting to collect and record the sufferings of Friends in respect of non-payment of tithes or for some of their other testimonies…..

The following minutes of the Quarterly Meeting refer to members of Grange Meeting who were persecuted for non-payment of tithes.


Account given that several Friends belonging to Charlemont Meeting were taken with a warrant and sent to Omagh gaol for their testimoney against Tythes but by the favour of the gaoler there, because of a raging fever in the gaol at that time (of which several died) gave them liberty to go home till he would send for them: and several more of that meeting are under the like persecution for small matters, the greater being taken; and also severe taking of tythes in several other places, particularly upon Friends of Ballinderry meeting, account where of is desired may be sent in the Epistle to the half years meeting……


Account from Friends of Charlemont Meeting who were desired to continue their care in doing the needful concerning the Friends of their meeting who were prosecuted on account of their testimony against tythes, that since last meeting the Friends who were prosecuted were summonsed to prison, and Thomas Greer and John Haydock prepared and went 20th inst. as Friends upon inquiry do find, and think to submit themselves to confinement, and Williarn Powell went also but did not appear with intent of being confined, because he offered to pay what was charged upon him, but it being rejected without the whole sum for the three was paid together…..

Why did the early Friends object so strongly to the tithe system? Not merely because it was unfair that they, along with Presbyterian and Romanist peasants had to pay this tax for the upkeep of clergy and buildings for the Established Church which they refused to attend. In addition they thought that all preaching and ministry depended for its value on a definite call from God. At best the tithes seemed to be used to entice young men from the universities into the Church in order to earn an easy living. At worst the tithes went to some absentee cleric, or to some layman who made a profit for himself. All this was very far from the Christ-centered Church they caught a glimpse of in the New Testament. Had not Christ’s coming put an end to the Temple priesthood and sacrifices? The Gospel was free to all. Therefore to demand or pay compulsory tithe was almost a blasphemy.

In 1680 all Friends in Ireland were asked to write down their objections to payment of tithe individually. 780 answers were recorded in a large book in Dublin (9) including 21 men and 19 women from the meeting near Charlemont…..

The difficult years of the reign of James II and the events leading up to the Battle of the Boyne must have caused much anxiety to the peaceful farmers connected with Grange Meeting. Lawlessness was abroad; many houses were burned and pillaged and Friends suffered considerable material loss but their lives were generally spared. “Near Charlemont in the County of Tyrone, Friends generally kept their places…”

Friends in England were very concerned that their fellow members on this side were called to suffer so much material loss and £600 was forwarded to Ireland to assist in relieving some of the distress. This was in addition to £150 which was sent direct to Ulster Friends and a further £1,060 sent in 1692 which was evenly distributed to each Province. A letter of thanks was sent for this generous help but requesting that no further help of this nature should be sent. Rutty says “in those calamitous times were Friends very nearly [ie very closely] united in affection; and even from the Friends of Barbadoes there was £100 sent for relief.”

As we approach the end of the century, we see that life was becoming more settled. The “Williamite Wars” were over, persecution of Friends was dying down; the first generation of Quaker settlers had passed or was passing and the second had married and become firmly established. To the normal occupation of farming was often added the pursuits of spinning and weaving in linen or wool, and many of the wills of the period mention looms as legacies.

George Fox only visited Ireland on one occasion (1669) and this lasted for three months….

Economic conditions in Ulster were difficult during the early 18th century and some of the more adventurous young people had their minds directed to the New World and to William Penn’s new colony where all men were to be free to worship God according to the dictates of their conscience…..

Emigration and persecution, coupled with a tendency on the part of the younger members of the Society for a less strict, and more fashionable creed, tended to reduce the meeting. Even in the matter of emigration Friends might not act on their own judgement, but in preparing to emigrate it was usual to give due notice to the meeting and request their approval for such action. The meeting had to be satisfied that it was not running away from persecution which had driven them to this step…..

It is estimated that during the years 1682 to 1750 over 2000 Irish Friends went to Pennsylvania and of these 41 went from Grange, the greatest number from any Northern Meeting…

The original meeting-house at Grange was a low thatched building which may have been sited where the present caretaker’s house now stands. Frequent references are made in the minutes to having it re-thatched. The accommodation provided for a growing meeting was soon found to be inadequate and various proposals were made as to a site for a new meeting house…


“Whereas James Lord Viscount Charlemont has been so kind as to grant us a lease of this house and park and also the graveyard, for three lives in the name of Wm. Greer, and Thomas Greer, the rent a pepper corn if demanded to build a new house, we think proper to take a list of Friends names that is willing to subscribe towards the building of said house which is desired may be forty feet long, twenty four feet wide in the clear and twelve feet high inside wall and Friends of ability are desired to be generous in their subscriptions.”….


“As by a former minute of this meeting Friends agreed to build a small building for the accommodation of our Women Friends at the East end of this Meeting House, but as at several Province Meetings of late so many Friends and others attended that there was not room in the Meeting House for all that came. This meeting taking the matter into consideration conclude it will be best to make an addition of about 20 feet square to the North side of this house so fixed in such a manner as to serve for enlarging the same upon public occasions and also for the use of Women Friends. The Friends before appointed are desired to set about the same work without delay.”


“The Friends as before appointed to get the addition to the Meeting House built are urged to get the same finished against the Province Meeting and Friends who have not paid their subscriptions towards it are to pay them to Thos. Greer who is to advance what may be wanting to discharge the full expense on this meetings account.”

The Meeting at Grange (subsequently) declined in numbers, partly owing to the strict discipline then in force, but mainly owing to doctrinal differences which caused such [much?] havoc among the meeting of Friends in Ulster at this time. Another factor may have been the advance of Methodism and the visits of John Wesley to the district, followed by the formation of the Charlemont Circuit in 1781 with a considerable membership. It is recorded that in 1785 James Heather, Killyman, was appointed as a Methodist preacher. He originally belonged to the Society of Friends and is described by Dr. Coke as “Nine parts Methodist and one a Quaker”(17). Responsible Friends could not be found to maintain the meetings for discipline so it was considered advisable for the meeting to be linked to Lurgan Monthly Meeting in 1779. This arrangement continued till 1809 when Grange Monthly Meeting was reconstituted and comprised the meetings of Grange and Cootehill. Owing to the remoteness of the latter and difficutly of travel it was not possible to have much intercourse between the two meetings and while Grange increased from this time, Cootehill declined. Castleshane Meeting had already faded out as had Ballyhaise and Oldcastle Meetings, and so Grange became a Quaker outpost in Co. Tyrone having Richhill as its nearest neighbour…..

From “LIFE OF JOSEPH JOHN GURNEY” (1788-1849):

…..He was accompanied at this time [early 1827] by his sister Elizabeth Fry.

“Fifth day morning at Armagh, was highly interesting. It is a fine inland town. We visited the county jail and found a peculiarly open door for intercourse with the prisoners, the first time this has happened to us in Ireland …. Thence to Richhill where a large meeting of Friends and others were assembled at two o’clock: I believe to a good purpose as the gospel was fully preached and gladly received. That night we reached Rhone Hill near Grange where we were kindly entertained by an interesting family of Friends and on sixth day morning we held a large meeting at Grange. It was to me a time of deep exercise of mind. These were the parts in which Friends were once so led away by infidelity and their present state reminded me of the condition of the Jews after they came back from Babylon …. Though there seemed a strong hope of revival and two young people have lately begun to minister there….”

Soon after the Monthly Meeting at Grange was recommenced, the need was felt for a larger meeting-house which would accommodate the increased numbers now attending (many of whom were not in membership), and also to provide room for special gatherings such as Quarterly Meeings etc…..

There is a gap in the records of the meeting between l8l6 and l824 and it was during this period when the present Meeting House was built, probably during the years 1816 to 1818 as a piece of land containing 1 rood was purchased in 1818 for £20 described as opposite the New Meeting House….

The building which was erected at this time served its purpose well and is still in weekly use. The only major repair so far required was to the roof, and this was carried out in the manner recommended by the architect consulted at a cost of £251-0-0 in the summer of 1951.

The Summer Quarterly Meeting in June came to be held at Grange and this became a biennial event which was looked forward to and prepared for with keen anticipation and at one period it continued leisurely over part of four days. The largest gatherings were, of course, on the Sunday, when the whole district seemed to turn out and in addition excursion trains were even run! Many of those who came in this way had little interest or knowledge of Friends’ mode of worship and came rather to enjoy the outward amenities rather than to partake of a spiritual feast. All this was rather embarrassing to Friends and such excessively large gatherings were discouraged. James N. Richardson has pictured for us in a delightful manner a Quarterly Meeting held at Grange in 1882 where important issues were debated and the leading Friends of that time are sketched with insight and imagination. (20)

“For sweet is Grange in summer
And ‘neath its foliage green
O gentle stranger, thow may’st gaze
On many a sylvan scene
Close to the place of gathering
Are cots and sheepfolds seen
And meadow lands and emerald flax
And apple orchards green.

And While the deep ‘Blackwater’
Rolls past the Charlemont Hill
May Grange in month of June
Behold the Quakers still”….

Sarah Barcroft of Stangmore, Dungannon, was a prominent member of Grange Meeting and [early on the 20th century] as she approached the end of a long life, she became increasingly concerned as to the future of the business meeting (Monthly Meeting) at Grange and it was she who suggested the amalgamation of the two meetings of Grange and Richhill to form one Monthly Meeting. Both meetings were situated in similar rural surroundings and it was her judgment that by uniting the two meetings both would be strengthened. Other concerned and responsible Friends in Grange who supported the idea were S Edith Hobson, William Frederick Hobson (Clerk Grange Monthly Meeting), Isaac Edward Haydock and others. Richhill Friends seemed to welcome the proposal and it was in no small measure due to the advice and guidance given by R. Ernest Lamb that the union of the two meetings came to fruition. Details of how ably the matter was carried through can be gauged by the following extract from Minute 12 of Ulster Quarterly Meeting held 21/03/1921.

[Quotation from the joint request from the two Monthly Meetings:]

“….Above all we feel that the union we seek for and hope to attain is not merely the formal linking together of our two constituent bodies. We look to the welding more closely of a spiritual bond of love whereby we may enter more fully into sympathy with each other’s needs and aspirations, sharing one another’s burdens and seeking by mutual service to encourage and uphold each other in our Holy Faith and display more effectively the banner of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”.

“Signed on behalf of Grange and Richhill Monthly Meetings: William F Hobson, Clerk Grange Monthly Meeting, R Ernest Lamb, Clerk Richhill Monthly Meeting”

[Response of Quarterly Meeting:]

“Ulster Quarterly Meeting enters into sympathy with the desires expressed and on the basis of the report now unites the two Monthly Meetings to form one Monthly Meeting to be known as Grange and Richhill Monthly Meeting, trusting that the union may lead to increased life and mutual encouragement. A copy of this minute to be forwarded to the Yearly Meeting.”….


For the interest of future generations we give a short account of Grange Meeting in 1960.

First Day morning meeting is the main gathering of the week when we have a normal attendance of between fifty and sixty and occasionally upwards of seventy. About half these numbers are children and after the first half hour of meeting they leave for First Day school held in the Old Meeting House. An arranged meeting is held each First Day evening, except during Seventh and Eighth Months, and as well as members is attended by those of other denominations living in the district. A Scripture Union Meeting for young people is held on the first First Day of each month and this together with First Day school is in charge of members of the meeting. Preparative Meeting on Ministry and Oversight meets regularly when the needs of the meeting are prayerfully considered and appointments made to visit members and attenders who are sick or for some reason are considered in need of a visit.

Monthly Meetings held at Grange, Richhill or Tamnamore are not only occasions where the Monthly Meeting business is conducted, but are times of happy social fellowship with members of Richhill and Tamnamore Friends.

The decision this year [1960] to build a Bungalow on the Meeting House premises has created considerable interest and enthusiasm amongst members. It is, in the first instance, for the use of William Brien, until recently a member of Dublin Monthly Meeting but now a member of this Meeting and throughout the past twenty years a welcome visitor to Grange. William Brien has been engaged in Home or Foreign Mission work for the past thirty-four years and last year returned from Pemba because of illness, where he had worked with the Friends Service Council since 1944. He expressed a wish to reside within the bounds of our Meeting and when efforts to rent a suitable house failed the Meeting decided unanimously to build a bungalow. G. Philip Bell, Architect, and a member of Lurgan Preparative Meeting submitted plans and in a matter of a few weeks after the suggestion to build was made a sum of £1,500 of the estimated cost of £2,000 was promised. It is hoped the bungalow will be completed by the end of this year.

[From the 1984 Edition:]

The above bungalow was duly completed, and William Brien was the first tenant, where he continued to live for sixteen years. When in residence he played an important part in the life of the meeting. He only moved nearer to Lurgan because he found transport from Grange rather difficult. He is now a member of Portadown Meeting and when he visits Grange from time to time he receives a warm welcome.

We at Grange are grateful for our Quaker faith and heritage and would ask God’s guidance and help that we might be faithful in our day and generation. As we look to the future we find our hopes already expressed in the words of the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier:-

‘We know not what the future hath
Of marvel or surprise
Assured alone that life and death
His Mercy underlies.

We know not where His islands lift
Their fronded palms in air
We only know we cannot drift
Beyond His love and care.”


In looking back over the years since the publication of the Historical Sketch of Grange Meeting in 1960, what has occurred in the life of the Meeting worthy of recording? Several matters come to mind:-

During the 1960s Grange Friends felt greatly exercised that we as a Meeting had practically no Missionary outreach. Our Meeting on Ministry and Oversight met and after much consideration decided to recommend to our Preparative Meeting that we should subscribe one-tenth of our normal annual income to Missionary work.

In furtherance of this scheme a special Preparative Meeting was held on 12th of 3rd month, 1969, when the matter received careful consideration and the Friends then present gave their wholehearted approval of the following Minute:-

“Minute 6: The suggestion has been made that we as a Meeting should have a definite Missionary outreach, perhaps by subscribing one-tenth of our normal annual income towards Missionary work. It has been decided that this idea has much to commend it and it is accepted by this Meeting.

The Preparative Meeting on Ministry and Oversight is to be asked to bring forward to future Preparative Meetings the name of a Missionary Society or Societies to which we could subscribe”.

In consequence of this decision our Meeting has subscribed annually to Missionary Societies, such as The Qua Iboe Mission, The Evangelical Friends Mission (U.S.A.), The Scripture Union, etc…..

1: Wight and Rutty: History of the Rise and Progress of the people called Quakers in Ireland, Dublin 1751, p119
2: ibid, p 342.
3: William Edmundson’s Journal, 3rd Ed, Dublin 1820, p55.
4: Archbishop Laud, executed 1645.
6: Author of The Great Cry of Oppression published 1683.
7: Wight & Rutty p 343.
9: Record Office, 6 Eustace St., Dublin.
17: History of Methodism in Ireland, CH Crookshank, Belfast 1885, vol 1, p407.
20: The Quakri at Lurgan and Grange, James N Richardson, 1899.

(a) In editing for the web-site some additions in square brackets have been put in for clarity.
(b) The booklet quotes from 18th century Minutes, and uses ‘ye’ in some places. In out transcription we have used ‘the’ instead of ‘ye’. In Old English there was a letter called a ‘thorn’ that looked like ‘ye’ but was in fact pronounced ‘the’.
(c) In the abridgment we have kept the reference numbering of the original, whence the gaps in the sequence.

Putting Faith in Action: Quaker Bolivia Link tour to South America

In 2006 Alan and Sue Pim travelled to Bolivia and Peru as part of the Quaker Bolivia Link Project team that visits Bolivia once every two or three years, to discuss the merits of projects that are proposed to the UK and USA Boards of QBL; and other responsibilities might include summarizing projects for the Boards, writing reports after visiting projects, working with the project database and discussing strategy and implementation.

This is their report:

Barbara Flynn, our leader was there to meet us as we flew into La Paz, the capital of Bolivia at 07.00 on a beautiful clear sunny morning. Seventeen of us had met in Miami to fly the last leg of our journey together, we had come from different parts of the US, England, Scotland, Germany, Spain and of course Ireland. La Paz (the airport) is well outside the city on a high, flat plateau at about 13,000ft. Surrounding us were the beautiful snow covered peaks of the Andes over 21,500ft. We sat quietly in a café at the airport to rest a while to begin to get used to the thin atmosphere (only 80% of normal oxygen levels here). To help with fighting the thin air we all had our first cup of “matte de coca”. The American government wants to stop the Bolivian people growing coca but it is part of the Bolivian culture and certainly a cup of coca tea is far less addictive than ordinary tea or coffee and is actually good for you.

Our luggage along with that of two of the Americans failed to turn up and we were travelling at the time when hand luggage was VERY restricted! I had believed the BA captain when he said there was no need to collect our luggage at Miami and check it in again, a process that has been insisted on by the Americans since 9/11. In some ways it was liberating not having luggage but it was rather miserable to have to wear the same clothes we had travelled in when we got up the next day! The luggage that had arrived was tied on top of the two minibuses that took us to Sorata, a picturesque town in a valley surrounded by the Andes.

Sorata is lower than La Paz and we stayed there a few days to get used to the altitude. While there we visited many Quaker Bolivian Link projects high up in the mountains. Mostly water projects bringing water from the melting snow along pipes to the villages. Some villages would just have taps; others would have showers and toilets as well as taps. There is a huge increase in the number of girls attending primary school when a village gets water, as it was the girls’ job to collect water. We also saw irrigation projects and agricultural projects.

Quaker Bolivian Link funds projects that the local communities have asked for. The community will have to do a feasibility study into their project and also be willing to help to do the work in carrying it out. QBL have a lot of requests for funding but they only fund those projects that will help to better the community. They employ four agricultural advisers who come from the local Indian Aymarian community and have been to university and are able to converse in Aymarian and Spanish. We were very impressed with them and their knowledge of agriculture and horticulture and the way they carried on their jobs. There was also a part time accountant who looked after the money end in Bolivia. It is very important to have these people with local knowledge overseeing the projects and visiting regularly to see that everything is working as it should.

To get to these projects we all piled into the back of an open truck, one or maybe two could fit in the cab beside the driver, but it was far more exciting standing up in the back, getting scared by the sheer drops on the sides of the road, as we wound our way upwards on tiny dirt roads as far as we could go. We then had to climb further up the mountain on tiny steep paths until we reached our destination, these walks would often be over an hour.

We would bring bread and fruit towards a shared lunch, luxury items as far as the villagers were concerned. These people were some of the poorest in Bolivia, which is the poorest country in South America. They produce over 600 different types of potatoes; even someone coming from Ireland was amazed at the different varieties! They also had cooked dishes with corn and quinoa with vegetables that were lovely.

While in Sorata we attended the dedication of the Internado (the hostel for children from these high up villages who are attending secondary school in Sorata, which we are so keen to raise money for). Alan and I arrived early and I helped with the food preparations cutting up lettuce and tomatoes. That was alright but then I had to cut onions very thinly and I wasn’t doing it thinly enough, I don’t understand Spanish but I knew that one of the boys from the internado was telling the house mother that I was doing a bad job! Finally the celebrations started; there were lots of speeches, all in Spanish, from local dignitaries and Quakers. Afterwards we had the usual shared lunch. That afternoon when we had free time some of us went with the manager of the hotel on a walk to some caves. The walk was meant to be downhill all the way but we found that a lot was definitely uphill! It was a lovely walk but when we got to the caves we found them pretty boring, not as good as the ones we have here.

On our last day in Sorata, a Sunday, we went to the Quaker church where we got our travelling minute signed and attended the programmed service for about an hour. We then had to leave for La Paz. While in Sorata we had a short Meeting for Worship each evening, which was very special, but it was harder to have it in the hotel in La Paz. When we were staying in a hotel beside Lake Titicaca we had arranged a circle of chairs for our Meeting and a family had sat down in our circle to play cards but we started our meeting despite the card playing. It was amazing how quickly they sensed something was going on and they quietly left us. It was a pity they couldn’t have stayed and worshiped with us.

On our way to La Paz we stopped at the home of one of our minibus drivers and we were all given food and matte de coca or soft drinks. Our minibus drivers were so good to us and looked after us very well, and drove so well over the awful roads. In La Paz we visited more projects. The best had to be the Gregorias project where we visited a group of wonderful ladies and bought some of their beautiful fine quality alpaca products which they had knitted or woven. They gave us an excellent lunch too! We went to a school for children who are mentally and physically challenged – the deaf and mute were there in the afternoon. We were impressed by the staff and the children who were so friendly and gave us big hugs when we left. The school was a catholic school but QBL had funded a booklet for parents of these children with helpful information about their various needs.

One day we set out in the two minibuses for the altiplano (La Paz was first built up there by the Spanish but was quickly abandoned and rebuilt in the valley). A huge flat area, thousands of square miles, very dry, bare, windswept place with few trees. The altitude here is about 13,000 feet, higher than The Alps; although it is in the Tropics it is cold, especially at night where there is a frost 200 nights a year. We went to visit water pumps and various plastic greenhouses which help the villagers to grow all sorts of vegetables which improves their diet especially the children’s, again we had a wonderful meal at a place where the women of the community had got together to organise the viability of their project, unfortunately we had just eaten and weren’t able to do the meal justice! We had spent the morning looking at some pre Inca ruins at Tiwanaka, which was fascinating. The place is a World Heritage Site.

One day the whole of La Paz was blockaded by a transport strike so we couldn’t go to any projects instead we went shopping and sightseeing and got our shoes cleaned; the shoes looked great, almost new again! We had a wonderful meal in a vegetarian café, you could eat as much as you liked for next to nothing in our money. Even though there were heavily armed police around the main streets we never felt threatened by anyone.

We then said good-bye to La Paz and headed to Lake Titicaca, which we had seen in the distance on our way to and from Sorata. It was lovely to finally see this lake that we had first heard about so many years ago in Geography class! It was so beautiful and the colour always seemed to change from day to day. We met one of the boat builders who had been flown to Chad in Africa by Thor Heyerdahl to help build the Ra II. We had a posh lunch in a posh restaurant, very nice. We then left for the Amacari Medical Centre which Irish Friends helped fund. We felt proud when we saw the plaque with “amegos de irlanda” on it. We had to board a boat to cross the straits of Tiquina to the other side of the lake while our minibuses were hauled across on barges. We were very impressed by the centre which has made such a difference to the health of the local people who live in a very isolated part of Bolivia.

As Copacabana was blockaded we couldn’t stay there and had to spend two nights on the shores of Lake Titicaca. We tried to visit a project nearby which had funded the growing of alfalfa and better quality cattle but everybody was at a local rally where the president Evo was speaking. When we got back to the hotel we decided we’d go too! We must have been the only gringos in amongst thousands of locals. The speeches were over and there were various dances going on with wonderfully colourful costumes. Evo is a president of the people and we hope he survives but Bush doesn’t like him! We were glad to be there and see him, in the distance and wave to him when he left by helicopter.

The next day was an early start, as we had to go all the way around the southern coast of the lake to get to Peru, because of the blockade. We said a sad farewell to Barbara and met Malku our guide for Peru who is very knowledgeable about Inca ruins and has written many books on the subject. We visited many Inca and pre Inca sites culminating in Machu Picchu. We visited the floating islands on Lake Titicaca as well as going in a reed boat. We found Peru very touristy compared to Bolivia and we felt we were hustled by the locals to buy goods. On the other hand the roads, accommodation and food were better, but more expensive!

We have started Spanish lessons since coming home in the hope that we can go back to Bolivia and/or to other parts of South America.

World Gathering of Young Friends – Epistle

To all Friends everywhere,

Greetings from the World Gathering of Young Friends 2005. 226 Friends gathered together in Lancaster University, United Kingdom, from 16th – 24th August 2005. Our theme was ‘I am the vine, you are the branches. Now, what fruit shall we bear?’ taken from John 15; and William Penn’s challenge ‘Let us then try what love will do’. Among us, 58 Yearly Meetings and 9 monthly meetings and regional groups were represented, with speakers of more than twenty different languages. We were called to be gathered together at the place where our Quaker movement first bore fruit, the heart of 1652 country. We returned to our shared roots, to the birthplace of our collective spiritual identities. Through climbing Pendle Hill as a community, to live out George Fox’s vision of a great people gathered together, we found a unity with the place and one another, among the bright green hills, surrounded by grazing sheep.

We felt great joy in being together and many Friends gave thanks for being here. However, our hearts were filled with sadness too. In the hall where we met there were many empty chairs, and we were always aware of those Friends who could not join us here in Lancaster. Many were absent because they were denied visas, others because they found when the time came that they could not join us after all. Their loss is our loss as well, for without their presence we could not feel their truth reflected in their words, their experiences, their faces and their smiles. However we could feel their presence in our hearts. We have selected 2 representatives from each region to go to a post-WGYF gathering in Kenya to share with these brothers and sisters the Love and Spirit that we felt in this gathering.

Twenty years have passed since the last World Gathering of Young Friends, held in Greensboro, North Carolina, USA. To what purpose were we summoned once more?

Here we tried each other’s forms of worship, silent and programmed, songs in many different languages, scriptural readings, hand holding. We were open, amazed, stretched and blessed. We learned that the great presence in our lives can be called by many names, Jesus, Christ, God, Inner light, Spirit, Love or many others. Ultimately, through listening to the Spirit that moved us, not the words in which we expressed our movement, we strived to become one organism, one body made up of many different parts (1 Corinthians 12:13).

We were united not so much in the expression of our faith as in our common desire to be unified and by the power of the Spirit amongst us during these 9 days. We were challenged to put aside the labels we hide behind, programmed, unprogrammed, liberal, evangelical, and come together as Friends of the Truth, seeking together for the common truth behind our language. We have not finished this process. We are only at the beginning of a long path, but the love and joy we have felt in being in this place together have allowed us to come this far, and we pray that they will lead us further yet.

The time here has been a chance to reflect on our lives. We have been challenged to recognize ourselves as God’s children, and respond in willing devotion. The love we have found here is not for us to own but to share. We desire to show our love by doing good and avoiding harm to all people and to all the Earth. We must let others see this love and know its source so that they may come to share it.

The Spirit present in our gathering summoned us to be a gathered people, and spoke through the many different people and cultures here to remind us of its glory, power and purpose. The Spirit is at work in all of us, and it is calling us not to judge one another’s forms of worship but to examine our own hearts, find our own calling. We are called to take what we have experienced here and give it back to our communities.

Far away meetings now have faces, stories and friendships that make them real to us. Bridges have been built at our Gathering which we call on Friends everywhere to nurture and support. We will keep this contact alive through exchanges, more frequent gatherings and opportunities to work together. Through this contact we will give strength to each other and share our gifts. We must face the future challenges of the Religious Society of Friends together.

Where we explored the theme of the vine and the branches we found that its fruits are born from love. We have experienced what Love can do in this Gathering, now let us try what it can do in the world.

World Gathering of Young Friends – reflections

Aidan McCartney, Coleraine PM

For me the first day of the World Gathering of Young Friends on 16th August 2005 was the end of a vision that I and some other Young Friends had worked towards for over 4 years. However, it was thrilling to see that, the last day of the World Gathering on 24th August was the start of a vision for many more Young Friends who attended. During the gathering lives were changed, Friends beliefs and practice were challenged, but throughout it all was a genuine commitment to learn from one another and to develop relationships. It was the relationships fostered between people who seemed to hold very different values that I believe were and are the key to understanding between Friends worldwide.

In a way I was surprised by the willingness of all those who attended the World Gathering to try to understand each others faith. I had expected more arguments and less desire to trust each other and to love one another. Knowing some of the diversity of belief present at the gathering I believe that this could only have been brought about by the power of God in our midst. I don’t mean to suggest that there wasn’t heated debate and awkward questions being asked, but perhaps there was more willingness to try to answer the awkward questions and not just hide behind what you have always believed.

There were representatives from 58 Yearly Meetings and 9 other Friends groups at the conference. We had Friends who practiced bread and wine communion in their churches, Friends who felt more comfortable with Buddhism or Islam than Christianity, Friends who vehemently defended the “right way” to practice silent worship to Friends who spent most of their worship services dancing in the aisles! It was a great crucible of ideas of how to live as a Quaker and for me was so fascinating. I was disappointed in a way that I was so involved in the organisation, because I would have loved to have talked to more people and learned from them. It was satisfying to know that others were having these conversations because of the work I was putting in to the organisation.

Two of my favourite days during the gathering were the trip days. This was possibly because of my role in organising sessions so I could relax on those days with less to do. One day we split into 4 groups and visited 1652 country sites at Swarthmoor Hall, Lancaster Castle, the Quaker Tapestry and Firbank Fell. I travelled to Firbank Fell via Brigflatts Meeting House built in 1675. We held a Meeting for Worship there which was a powerful experience. On another day all 226 of us climbed Pendle Hill as George Fox had done. This was a personal vision I had had of the gathering a couple of years ago, so to see everyone on top of the hill eating lunch with the sun blazing down on us was an emotional feeling and a real highlight.

My main responsibilities at the gathering were with the Programme Committee, we had planned the schedule and the events that would take place during the day. Here is a typical day at the gathering. We started each day with a worship session which was lead by a different regional group each day so some days it was programmed and some days unprogrammed. Then we met in base groups, these were groups of about 10 people representing the diversity at the gathering. There was a curriculum for this time to ensure we covered similar issues, we shared about our experiences of being a Quaker, what our meetings were like, our views on Jesus Christ and our vision for the future of Friends among other things. After lunch there were workshops or interest group sessions. This gave Friends a choice of activity and were in slightly smaller groups of around 50 people. Workshops were held on anything you can imagine from trampolining to American Friends Service Committee, from Plain Dress to Learning Nepali! After workshops, there was a period of free time around dinner time which was a great time to talk to people, throw a Frisbee around or check your email.

In the evening we had a second plenary session of the day. We began with some worship and then it was over to our plenary speakers. We had 4 speakers who stayed with us for the whole gathering and spoke on three occasions each. They were Colin Saxton, Northwest YM, USA, Deborah Saunders, Philadelphia YM, USA, Oliver Kisaka from Kenya and Ute Caspers from Germany. These 4 speakers spoke in very different ways and about different things at times but were all challenging. We were challenged to forget our own human desires let God work through us. Also to give God the glory for what He can achieve through us. All of our speakers approached their task with great sensitivity to the Holy Spirit and also with good humour and I appreciated their words so much.

Some evenings we had further activities, including a Bible Quiz, singing, dancing and the compulsory cabaret session! There was also plenty of time to get to know each other, the weather was kind to us and many Friends stayed up long into the night talking on the lawn or in the square beside our accommodation block.

In conclusion, I can only say that the World Gathering of Young Friends was a great success through the friendships made and understanding built across cultures, languages and ways of worship. My thanks to you all for the financial and prayerful support for me personally and for the gathering.

Meditation: Duty to one’s self, one’s soul

Sarah Hardy Jackson, Monkstown Meeting: : talk at Ulster Quarterly Meeting, 23 September 2007

Sarah Hardy Jackson is a convinced Friend, a member of Dublin Monthly Meeting for over 30 years. She has served as clerk, overseer and elder of various meetings, including a period as Yearly Meeting recording clerk. This talk was given twice in different versions. Her thought developed over time and each version is specific to a different audience. The first version (Duty to Oneself) was given to Friends at Ulster Quarterly Meeting, held in Bessbrook Meeting House in September 2007. Here she could make reference to our queries and other shared experience as Quakers. Later she was asked to give the Meditation which forms part of the World Day of Prayer Service for Christians of all denominations, held in Monkstown Meeting House in March 2008. Her own experience during the intervening time, the reaction of the audience at Bessbrook, the content of the set part of the service, and the fact of being heard by a wider audience, combine to create a version that is both shorter and with a broader context.


The request to write something for Ulster Quarterly Meeting came in mid-March, a time when the world changed very fast for me.

My 84-year-old mother, resident in New York since 1950, had gone to live with a nephew in England the previous November. It was not a good decision for either of them, and the relationship was falling apart. By prearrangement, she was to visit me in April. Suddenly the nephew decided that enough was enough and he wanted her out of his house as soon as possible. With nowhere else to go, short of money and getting frail, my mother would be living with me by the end of May.

So my response to the request was that I was unsure of what the future would hold and thus of whether I could offer anything to Friends by September. But this was the second time Ulster Friends had asked me for a talk, and it seemed that I should not say NO forever to such kindness and faith.

It has been a busy time trying to re-establish life for my mother in a new place with new people. Not to mention that she’s an Englishwoman now living in Ireland! Through the generosity of so many people and agencies, she is living a semi-independent life in sheltered housing and seems healthy and as settled as one might hope for. Since May I have been treading the difficult line between trying to make everything right for her and remembering to value my own life, work and needs. Much of the time I was so caught up in duty that I lost love and soul. From that awareness of my own failings and an incident at a Ministry and Oversight meeting come the germ of this paper.

Duty and service to others

In June was my final M and O meeting before completing the current term as an elder. That seemed like a chance to reflect on what had been achieved in the previous three years, along with the hopes and wishes for what might have happened instead. I was glad my term was over, especially as it ended in the middle of the settling-in period for my mother, whose needs were frequent and often difficult to meet. The demands were onerous and I was close to exhaustion. It was hard to remember if I had given anything of myself to the Society as an elder over the years. Time and duty, yes; but how much of my real self had I contributed?

The previous Sunday at Monkstown meeting we had heard most of the General Christian Counsel, with all its prescriptions about behaviour, being a better F/friend, those impossible measures of ourselves. Then at M and O we heard the fifth Query. Usually I note the part about honesty and integrity, pat myself on the back as this is not a huge issue for me, and get on. But this time I was caught by the final sentence: “Do you seek to discern how much of your time, talents and resources you should devote to the service of others?” When that phrase has spoken to me before, I’ve thought I should do more, be a better child, parent, wife, citizen, Quaker. Give more, think of myself less, and be more dutiful. Here I was, exhausted, close to losing any sense of my self, my soul, or what was true and right for me. And Quaker writing seemed only to reinforce the demands. The weight on my shoulders felt heavier than ever.

At M and O we had some discussion, the usual one in Quaker committees, about how to get more people involved, why the young adults do not come among us and certainly not to business meetings, what is the future of the Society. We all know this discussion. We’ve heard it many times. By definition, if you’re here at Quarterly Meeting, you’re one of those who do give up time for this communal purpose. You sit on committees, bring the flowers, take the children’s meeting, and visit the sick and elderly. And maybe your hair too is greying and you have a sneaking niggle about how long you can go on doing all this and who will do it then.

Duty to the self

A light shone for me. We may just have this backwards. The Queries are all about tasks and hurdles to overcome. They can feel very negative. It is difficult to achieve all these duties about relationships with others. They are the actions, the results; but what about the core value from which service proceeds? What is it that Quakerism teaches above other paths to God? What canst thou say?

What about the relationship with our self? That of God, which we are exhorted to seek and to meet in everyone else, is also in our self and our soul. Perhaps God’s spirit does not call us to attend business meetings, teach Sunday school, or other outward tasks. What if our gift is quiet worship, or growing geraniums, or painting pictures, or dancing? Are these self-indulgent? And what does that really mean? If God did not want us to feed our soul, why would we have one? Why would we have needs and wants? Do we have to deny our self in order to follow God’s will?

From childhood society, and particularly religion, teaches us to deny ourselves and put others first. But that’s not what Jesus said. He told us to love God first and then to love others as our self. In Matthew 22:37-40, he says this in reply to a question about which is the greatest commandment.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

So we are commanded by Jesus, by God, to love our self. Of course there is a risk we might become selfish. But that is different from loving our self, our soul: for this is our true being, what God really wants of us and for us. Unless we do listen to that voice, we may never discover who we really are and what we are truly called to do.

How easy it is for duty and other people’s ideas and standards to become adopted as our own. It is natural for us to want to fit in with our family, culture, church or school. We may rebel a little as teenagers, but most of us eventually conform. Unless this outside standard is really true for us and our soul, at some stage this unthinking acquiescence will come adrift. We may lose heart, become depressed, burn out, give up, or drift away.

This is not to advocate free love and a world without standards. But there is a huge need in each person’s life to take time to find out what is really true at a spiritual level. And that can change over time. We may have to make this journey more than once. Perhaps every decade we need to revisit this. Who am I now? What is true for me now? That doesn’t mean that what was once true is now false; just that I have changed, and it no longer fits.

We must not fear change. It is part of us, part of all living things. And on the whole we change for the better. We mostly try to pare down the layers, to get to the kernel of eternal truth in us, to find what we are truly meant to be, to know, and to embody.

Change in the individual can seem like a threat to others. They like predictability. Oh Jean, she’ll always take the children’s meeting. Well Jean may have given all she has to that task. She may need to feed her own soul for a while. That may mean she sits quietly in meeting for worship for many months. Or maybe she needs to go walk in the mountains on a Sunday. The voice that calls her is the voice she needs to follow. Even if all the outside voices around her are complaint, talking of duty and responsibility, Jean must follow the inner call of her soul.

Real service can only come out of the inner truth. It is not a substitute for it. If service is done purely from duty or habit, while useful, it has nothing of joy or love. It does not come from the heart, from the soul.

There is brief reference in the second Query to making time for private retirement for meditation, prayer and thanksgiving. The General Christian Counsel talks of giving time to the consideration of your spiritual growth. But these phrases about the value of quiet as the centre of our life are drowned in reams of words about duties, tasks and action.

The gift of silent worship

At the FWCC triennial this summer, the question was whether the Society has a prophetic vision for today. I was not present there to hear the discussion, but I do know we must share the good news of our direct experience of God in the deep silence, with our own and other young people. I feel this so deeply, yet it did not move my children. Was this because when they were young I was always off at business meetings, moaning about the paperwork? Did I never share the deep joy and refreshment of my soul in a gathered meeting? To listen, to really listen to myself, to others, to God in the silence of the meeting: it’s hard to achieve, but when it happens I am refreshed and renewed. I am saved from bombardment by my own ideas and all the environmental noise. I hear the peace. I hear the truth. It’s rare and doesn’t happen every time. Often I mishear, speak ministry that doesn’t ring true. But sometimes, just sometimes, I do. And what a gift it is to hear that clear note. How do we share this understanding that all of us can experience God directly?The great gift of Quaker worship is that it provides, even insists on time for quiet reflection. The amount of quiet may depend on the quantity of ministry in our particular meeting. People use this time in many ways. I’ve heard some say apologetically that they use it to sort out the problems of their daily life. Why apologise for that? Yes, we all hope to praise, to hear God’s message, to do all sorts of higher activities in this time. But it has to start with a cleared mind. Nothing new can come in if we are preoccupied with duties and cares. Using the time to mentally housekeep and make those lists, that’s not such a bad thing to do. It would be sad if it were the only thing that ever happened to us during meeting for worship. Sixty minutes of that a week would be a bit dull. No room for joy there. But if it helps us to centre down, we should do it.

Some people talk about meeting for worship as the place to recharge their batteries. That was true for me when I first went to Churchtown meeting, aged 26 with three small children. I would arrive each Sunday exhausted in every way. I left with a bit more calm, a lot more patience and energy. Of course by the following Saturday I was back at the bottom again. But each Sunday I learned a little more about the importance of taking time for myself.

For many attenders, that is all they want of meeting for worship: a place to be quiet and alone in the company of others. We old hands need to remember just how great is the gift of focussed silence. There are few quiet places left in the world, fewer still for people who know they have a spiritual need that so far has been unfulfilled.

It is hard to listen to one’s soul, the self. All the roles, tasks, activities, and other people’s needs seem so pressing. Caring for our soul can seem so much less important, certainly less urgent: something to be deferred. The state of the meeting house roof, a father’s ill health, the employee who is always late: these might seem vital. And so we neglect that which nourishes us.

The funny thing is that it doesn’t take much time to have a healthy soul. If we go for that daily walk, listen to that music that moves us, look at that sunset, stroke that cat – whatever it is that feeds us – something every day, we can be well. And we’ll also get huge energy for all the other outside tasks. But we need first to take time every day to be quietly alone with our self, our soul.

Service and love
Once we’ve been coming to meeting a while, we hear the queries, and we get asked to serve on a committee. For some people this is a natural progression as they start to be more in touch with their own soul. Service then can come from their inner truth. But it’s essential that we not drown each other with tasks. The Society of Friends is a do-it-yourself religion. We do need to take part, or most of us do. It’s important to recognise that this cannot be forced on people. It has to be something we embrace because it is right for us, not something required of us because it’s right for the meeting.

What if no one will serve on a committee, people ask. Then lay it down, I answer. I was on the Outreach Committee in Dublin for many years. A time came when we recognised that we had become just inreach. The same Friends came to every talk, all of them old Quaker hands. We had nothing new to say. So we laid ourselves down. When the need did arise, after several years, the elders took it on and are doing it more effectively than we did.

We must have faith that change will come and is not a threat. The way we’ve always done things is not the only way. Coercion of people to do tasks, to serve on committees, the banging of the Quaker gong on duty: these are not the right way for them or for the Society. If no one agreed to be a clerk, elder, overseer, committee member, would that be so terrible? Many things might not be done for a while. That meeting house roof really might leak. But something would happen. That old Quaker word, concern, comes in here. Someone would have a concern. Someone would act. Other people would respond and gather around to help or encourage.

We must trust. We must not get bogged down in organisational bureaucracy. Record keeping is important, but it can be hard to keep one’s heart, spirit and faith when focussed on that role. I’ve served in the central office and know what it’s like to be the one paid Quaker in Ireland. And there are Quakers all over the land in a similar state, so overwhelmed by committee work and dutiful service that they have almost lost touch with their soul, the inner spark which is God working in them. Let us not allow that to happen. Let us teach ourselves and our young people the essential value of the soul. Let us give it time and space and quiet to reflect. Our great gift is the meeting for worship. Regular attendance there can keep us in touch with God in a deeply personal way. And all the best things that we get from meeting for worship can be ours every day. We know how to centre down and listen to the still small voice. We must give ourselves, our souls, that gift every day. The service that comes then flows from love. In Paul’s words (1 Corinthians 13: 1-3, 13):

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing… And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.