Meeting took plave in a not overly warm summer morning. Occaisionally the reshness of oncoming autumn air could perhaps be felt. Butterflies weved aroundthe wild grass and flowers in the area that has been left to go wild out the back of the meeting house.
We sat in our usual circle for Meeting.
A while into sitting a Friend spoke, saying that it was difficult looking out at the graveyard and not remember that 100 years ago many young men died. Walking around the graveyard they could see many young men who had died at the battle of the Somme in 1916. They said that one of the unique features or consequences of such horror was that men who had previously refused to serve in combat were allowed to form ambulance services in battle at the time.
They then read a passage by a Quaker who served at the time:
“There is hardly a moment when my thoughts are not with the men in France, eager to help the wounded by immediate human touch with their sufferings. This I was privileged to do during nineteen months spent at the Front with the Friends Ambulance Unit from October 1914 to May 1916, when it was still possible to give voluntary service. At times the impulse to return to this work becomes almost irresistible. May God steady me, and keep me faithful to a call I have heard above the roar of the guns. By the feverish activity of my hands, I might help to save a fraction of the present human wreckage. That would be for me no sacrifice. It costs far more to spend mind and spirit, if need be, in the silence of a prison cell, in passionate witness for the great truths of Peace. That is the call I hear. I believe that only spiritual influence will avail to free the world at last from war, to free the soldiers’ little ones and confused struggling humanity itself from all that men and women are suffering now. I honour those who, in loyalty to conscience, have gone out to fight. In a crisis like the present it would be unbecoming to elaborate the reasons which have led me to a course so different. Today a man must act. I believe, with the strength of my whole being, that standing here I am enlisted in active service as a soldier of Jesus Christ, who bids every man be true to the sense of duty that is laid upon his soul.”
Meeting had a delayed start today due to a Member having a car accident turning into the Meeting House so there was support to be given and taken whilst the immediate matter was sorted out. Luckily nobody was injured except the metal of two cars. Of course it’s an upsetting experience that’s hard not to be affected by.
The Society of Friends might be thought of as a prism through which the Divine Light passes, to become visible in a spectrum of many colours; many more, in their richness, than words alone can express.
Later a visiting Friend contributed musically by playing a compact accordion. Often music speaks louder than words. Or at least is complimentary.
At the close of Meeting we were asked to uphold the Friend who had endured the car accident and who had left early as a result.
A sunny day. Interesting to notice how the sun doesn’t hit the main Meeting room window any more as where the sun is at this time of day has changed slightly. The wild meadow out the back is reaching further upwards. Insects flit between the tops and the surrounding trees.
Advices & Queries 28 was read during this slightly shortened meeting die to the Preparative Meeting (Quaker Business Meeting) that followed it.:
Every stage of our lives offers fresh opportunities. Responding to divine guidance, try to discern the right time to undertake or relinquish responsibilities without undue pride or guilt. Attend to what love requires of you, which may not be great busyness.
Later a friend reflected on this passage by saying that whilst they thought it was very much common sense they still found themselves conflicted about it. They felt that tasks are laid onto people who often feel ill equipped and very unsuited to the task. But that they felt strength was given to do that task if it is God’s will.
They said there were examples at Yearly Meeting of people being called to undertake tasks via a calling or concern, in Quaker language, and though some had felt it was unwise to take on this work it nevertheless bore much fruit.
After Meeting we shared refreshments and chat and many of us stayed on for PM.
Two Friends who are attenders at Milton Keynes Meeting joined us for our meeting for worship this Sunday, a grey and increasingly wet morning. Our micro-meeting on this occasion had thereby doubled in numbers.
Our reading was Advices and Queries number 10:
“Come regularly to meeting for worship even when you are angry, depressed, tired or spiritually cold. In the silence ask for and accept the prayerful support of others joined with you in worship. Try to find a spiritual wholeness which encompasses suffering as well as thankfulness and joy. Prayer, springing from a deep place in the heart, may bring healing and unity as nothing else can. Let meeting for worship nourish your whole life.”Vocal ministry took the form of a beautiful melody intoned without words.
In conversation afterwards one of our visitors revealed that he had been born in Luton, and thought that the town was hugely improved since his boyhood. The other visitor expressed an interest in becoming a beekeeper. They both responded to the atmosphere of our meeting and the Meeting House.
icon-quote-left [The early Friends] made the discovery that silence is one of the best preparations for communion [with God] and for the reception of inspiration and guidance. Silence itself, of course, has no magic. It may be just sheer emptiness, absence of words or noise or music. It may be an occasion for slumber, or it may be a dead form. But it may be an intensified pause, a vitalised hush, a creative quiet, an actual moment of mutual and reciprocal correspondence with God. icon-quote-right
Rufus Jones, 1937
Towards the end of our shared hour of silence a Harpenden Friend spoke their thoughts re silence. They said that we were reminded of the power and importance this morning via the chosen reading but that sometimes that was difficult to find. They spoke of how we value silence but for others they may find it more difficult. They spoke of their sister returning from Quaker meetings in Africa where singing and dancing was a large part of the Meeting and silence was not. They spoke of the challenge at Quaker international gatherings were finding the very things that unite us could sometimes be difficult. They said they were reminded of this when reading latest edition of Friends Quarterly and quoted a final epistle by young Friends from 1985.
icon-quote-left The discretion has changed from persons wanting to ensure that their concerns were heard to wanting to ensure that the concerns of others were heard and that their needs were met. We had indeed experienced the transforming power of God’s love. icon-quote-right
During bridging time a Luton Friend read a letter that had arrived at Luton Meeting house this morning. Hopefully they won’t mind us sharing this wonderful letter:
After Meeting we had tea and coffee and convened for an hour for a ‘What’s on your mind’ discussion which covered the plight of migration of people’s around the world, the direction of our post industrial society and the challenges it is bringing now and may bring in the future including that state and nature of work, the rise of permanent precarious employment and the evolving role of education.
This week has featured hot, humid temperatures and some amazing sleep-disturbing night displays of lightning and rolling thunder. Certainly Meeting today took place in ongoing humidity and a lack of air movement despite having the door open in the main room. This meant that external noise was even more noticeable in terms of passing aircraft and the faint musical offerings from our evangelical friends over the road.
Sharing A Dream
A Harpenden Friend spoke of the different musical accompaniment was in the air this week and that perhaps some might say a more acceptable accompaniment though that depended on your taste. The Friend wondered if this was why early Friends did not have music in Meeting because they could not agree on a style acceptable to everyone.
They also reflected on whether the choice of grey clothing came from the same aesthetic and also how times have moved on in that Quakers were much more accepting of a whole spectrum of diversity and they then shared part of a piece written by David Boulton in the most recent edition of the Quaker Voices publication.
icon-quote-left I have a dream. I envision a society of Friends where committed Christians, universalists, Jews, Buddhists, theists, post-theists, non-theists, and religious humanists joyfully accept their theological and ideological differences, sharing their truths , listening to and respecting each other and finding heresy only in any form of dogmatic assertion. Such a society will not be held together by a common theology or even a common interpretation of Quaker tradition. These things matter but they are not the essentials. The ties that bind us together will be our Quaker values and the practices by which we express those values .icon-quote-right
All About Inclusivity
Later another Harpenden Friend stood to speak and said that they were struck by the omission of Muslims from the David Boulton extract read out earlier and that Muslims made up a greater number than some of those the others mentioned so they felt it a glaring oversight especially as the Islamic faith shared many traditions with other religions of the world and that they have known and continue to know much oppression. They said they felt it important for us all to hold out our collective hand to them and other religions as Quakerism, for them was all about inclusivity.
Inclusivity And Our Neighbours
A Luton Friend spoke to say that the previous ministry completely spoke their mind in terms of their relationship with Islam and the Islamic faith. They pointed out that one of the huge joys of living in Luton was the ease with which you could come into contact with those of Islamic faith. Their neighbours of a few doors down were Muslim and that they found that many of the Muslims they met were kindly, gentle, friendly and very open. That they showed deep care and compassion for others and for the world. They also felt that Islamophobia was a terrible curse and hoped it had not unintentionally crept into the list of philosophies and religions spoken of earlier. They also thanked the Friend for pointing this omission out. They said they felt it was so important that we had justice and equality in this way and that we recognised the huge gifts our Muslim friends could bring to us.
During bridging time another Friend shared something from Among Friends , a magazine by Europe & middle eastern section of the Friends World committee for consultation who held their annual meeting recently (the extract features on page 7 of this PDF version of the summer edition of Among Friends):
icon-quote-left At a time of escalating violence and suffering in many parts of the world and increasing tensions along the Ukrainian border two Friends, Mikhail Roshchin from Moscow Meeting and Roland Rand from Tallin Workshop Group in Estonia told us of their wish to travel under concern to Eastern Ukraine to meet and talk with individuals and organisations to hear their views of the situation and explore what is needed at this time. During a moving Meeting to consider this, the Annual Meeting tested their concern and from the prayerful gatheredness of the business meeting, agreed to support Friends to travel with the support of two or three Friends experienced in peace work. Funding for this can be channelled through the Eastern and Middle Eastern Section (EMES). icon-quote-right
Of Equal Concern…
A Luton Friend again spoke later that a lot of the world’s attention had been focussed on the tragedy of the shooting down of the Malaysian airliner over Eastern Ukraine and it was right that it should be so. They hoped that the tragedy in Israel and Palestine was not overshadowed by this as the loss of life was of equal number and concern.
After Meeting we shared Fairtrade dates made in the occupied territories of Palestine that had been purchased by Luton Meeting. As usual there was much chat while we had tea and coffee.
Next Week- Shared Lunch
Next week will be another shared lunch prefaced by an informal ‘What’s on your mind’ type discussion.
The thing that first hits you at Meeting this week is the floor and not just because I’m getting used to a new pair of glasses. The wooden tiled floor had been skimmed and refurbished. A compliment of sorts to the inner ring road roadworks which seem almost complete bar night work and closures on St Mary’s Roundabout.
We sat and waited together in the stillness. After 15 minutes children from Harpenden Meeting left us to gather in the library.
icon-quote-left There is a principle which is pure, placed in the human mind, which in different places and ages hath different names; it is, however, pure and proceeds from God. It is deep and inward, confined to no forms of religion nor excluded from any where the heart stands in perfect sincerity. In whomsoever this takes root and grows, of what nation soever, they become brethren. icon-quote-right
John Woolman, 1762
Kind Words For Luton
In a while another Luton Friend spoke of how they came to Meeting infrequently but they came when compelled and when the need for Meeting was the greatest in them. They then reflected on the advance Triennial report statement that had recently been shared via email ahead of the formal presentation of the report at area Meeting on this coming Thursday. They spoke of how it might be hard for a corporate body to acknowledge who they were but that they felt his Friends here at Luton have something else. They felt they wanted to express how Luton Meeting manifests calmness, welcoming, generosity, support and inclusion. All the things that were alluded to in the previous reading.
Caring Matters Most
Later a Harpenden Friend spoke of having two Friends staying with them who were over from New Zealand and who were not doing the traditional tourist excursions but were visiting many Quaker Meetings. They had been aware of the differences between Meetings but were aware of the welcome in each. They spoke of the phrase ‘caring matters most’ found in Quaker Faith & Practice and that in preparing for Meeting for Worship this morning athey had read something that really spoke to them in the shape of Jill Allum’s Thought For The Weekpiece in the latest edition of The Friend.
During bridging time, that space after Meeting for those to speak when perhaps they felt it was not appropriate during meeting itself, others spoke;.
A Harpenden Friend reflected on this morning’s ministries ranging from that of John Woolman’s confident assertion that all faith’s are equal through to Jill Allum’s struggle to come to terms with Jesus’ teachings and counter-cultural life. They said they recognised that struggle themselves and that they took some comfort from John Woolman’s own life lived via the Quaker testimonies and that to try to emulate him would perhaps be one way to live as part of a community.
Holding Ground But Keeping Your Heart Open
A Luton Friend said they had attended an anti-fascist demonstration in London recently, and that they were part of a blockade. They spoke of tension in that very community. People were there because for whatever reason they are who they are but by wanting to walk through that community it would be damaging and brutalising and that they personally found this made it a tough part of a Quaker calling but sometimes they felt they just had to stand in the way. That sometimes in life they were compelled to hold their ground but that this included keeping their heart open at the same time as holding their ground.
I Can’t Suddenly Learn To Hate…
A Harpenden Friend mentioned Geoffrey Durham speaking on the radio this morning regarding Quaker witness during the First World War and spoke of an extract of words spoken by a conscientious objector along the lines of “I can’t suddenly learn to hate the Germans” and that it seemed to them that translating that into moden political context would be to say that just because one person does something to offend us that we shouldn’t hate everyone from the same organisation or country and that we should find better ways of expressing our position regarding that of which we dissaprove.
The clerk of Luton Meeting thanked the fellow Friend for his earlier loving and encouraging words re Luton Meeting.