New user? Register here:
Email Address:
Password:
Retype Password:
First Name:
Last Name:
Existing user? Login here:
 
 
Features > Pastimes >

Word from Wormingford

Ronald Blythe sits in the stillness of a Meeting House

Click to enlarge

THE drought has vanished, and the wheat on the dipping field doesn’t look half bad. It has taken its normal midsummer blue-green colour, and has what scripture calls “fatness”. Immense clouds sail over it, plus a snowy glider or two. Sudden showers, hot sunshine, movement — too much of the latter, in our parish of Mount Bures, where badgers threaten the “motte” of a castle with their own building plans. But the countryside, after being static and swamped, is drying out and on the go.

Friends in the double sense have been showing me the new extension to the Meeting House at Bury St Edmunds. That captured quietness! Quakerism is a world apart, and also a world within a world, making its presence felt.

The architect of the restoration was required to create “an outward expression of our Quaker values to peace, truth, integrity, simplicity, equality, community, and steward­ship of the earth and its resources”. How does one line up all this on paper? How is quietness “housed”? In many ways, of course, but here in a famously principled way.

I step inside, and am met with Georgian separateness and with 21st-century inclusion. The joining rooms are tall and still, pale and severe. The old seating is rectangu­lar, the new circular. The Suffolk light pours in. Outside, there is a fine garden, and, say the Friends who are my friends, “a chip shop and a sex shop”.

And a cathedral. And an altar where they drew up Magna Carta. And a wall where I propped my bike when I was a teenager. And these wandering skies, which, in his mys­terious way, God makes big with mercy so as to break with blessings on our heads.

“Do Quakers sing at Meeting?”

“Yes, if the spirit says so.”

“Read a poem?”

“Read a poem.”

I often read about James Parnell, the Quaker boy they murdered in Colchester. He is one of my heroes. “Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,” is what I used to say when I thought of him, so slight, so vulner­able, so intelligent. So promising. He made me think of the promising legions of the young gassed by the Nazis. To destroy the promising, how it breaks the heart, whether a wild creature or a human being. And yet it is done.

Quakerism brings one face to face with unarguable truths. It is unambiguous. It has no creeds or sacraments, but what it calls “testi­monies”. These testimonies rose out of what they believe were God’s intentions for us. They do not im­pose them on anyone but they them­selves live by them. They meet in silence, but they are allowed to break the silence with something worth saying. Or singing. “Elected silence, sing to me,” wrote the teenaged Gerard Manley Hopkins. And it did — and how!

In the old half of the eating House, I sat on the men’s half of the bench, facing the gallery, the modern chairs, the echoing past, the Venetian window, the cumulative silence of the ages, trying not to think of words.

Job of the week

Inter Religious Affairs Programme Officer

London and Home Counties

Inter Religious Affairs Programme Officer Location: Lambeth Palace, London Salary: Starting salary of £27,911 rising to £30,326 upon successful completion of probation period. Contract Type: Full...  Read More

Signup for job alerts
Top feature

A poet who sets puzzles

A poet who sets puzzles

After the publication of a new edition of Rowan Williams's poems, Cole Moreton asks the priest-poet what goes on behind the verse  Subscribe to read more

Question of the week
Is Bishop Inwood right to withhold Canon Pemberton's licence?

To prevent multiple voting, we now ask readers to be logged in. This is free, quick and easy, honestly. Click here to login or register

Top comment

Comedian tells Christians how it is

The Church urgently needs a grown-up debate about theology, says Eva McIntyre  Subscribe to read more

Thu 24 Jul 14 @ 15:47
Meriam Ibrahim has arrived safely in Italy, weeks after being freed from her death sentence in Sudan for apostasy http://t.co/VOzbazyHoY

Thu 24 Jul 14 @ 15:12
The new issue of Church Times is out tomorrow. Here is our preview > http://t.co/X4UTLqhL5q