Thursday, July 20, 2017

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015-2017 - Y for Yearly Meeting Gathering

Back in 2013 I wrote a post about my experience of Yearly Meeting and as I said then I have been a regular attender for many years.

London (later Britain) Yearly Meeting has usually been held in London but in modern times there have been moves to change this. In 1905 London Yearly Meeting was held in Leeds and there were other occasional forays out of the capital - to Birmingham in 1908, Manchester in 1912 and 1926, Llandrindod Wells in 1924, Scarborough in 1925, Bristol in 1937, York in 1941 and 1942 and Edinburgh in 1948.

Younger son at YM 1986
It was intended that Yearly Meeting should be held in the summer every four years outside London and a minute was made to that effect in 1945. However the organisation of these 'Residential Yearly Meetings' took a while and the first was not held until 1986 in Exeter. I was there as part of the Quaker Women's Group presenting the Swarthmore Lecture and my family came too. In fact the children enjoyed themselves so much that they insisted that we should make it a family tradition. So we continued to go not only to Yearly Meetings in London but to residentials in Aberdeen in 1989, in Warwick in 1993, in Aberystwyth in 1997, in Exeter in 2001 and in York in 2005.



Author and younger son at Aberdeen YM 1989
From 1991 it was decided to hold Summer Gatherings between Residential Yearly Meetings. These were to be predominantly social affairs with no decision-making agenda. The Yearly Meeting in these years was still held in May in London. We did not go to the first Summer Gathering in Bradford but did attend those held in Lancaster in 1995, Canterbury in 1999, Loughborough in 2003 and Stirling in 2007.

Eventually however the organisational and financial burden of these different gatherings became too much, especially in the years when both Yearly Meeting and Summer Gathering were held. The decision was therefore made to amalgamate Residential Yearly Meeting and Summer Gathering into Yearly Meeting Gathering with YM sessions and social activities being thrown together and particpants being able to make their own agenda.

Epilogue at Yearly Meeting Gathering in Bath 2014

The first Yearly Meeting Gathering was held in York in 2009, followed by Canterbury in 2011 and Bath in 2014. This year YMG will be at the University of Warwick and I will be there.

Any longer residential gathering is bound to be an intense experience, sometimes almost overwhelming, and I have sometimes found it difficult, needing to carve out spaces of solitude and calm for myself. But there have been many happy and uplifting times as well as difficult ones and I have always been glad that I have gone.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015-2017 - X for the unknown

X is a kind of question mark, an unknown value in an equation. When writing a blog I find that each post is setting out into the unknown. Even when writing within a structure, like the alphabet, the element of mystery and surprise is still there.

One of the things which keeps me going back to Quaker meetings is this element of the unknown. Although there are structures and procedures which have grown up over the years and give a comforting safety and routine, there is also the unknown which, if we are open to it, has the power to discomfort and change us, leading us on to explore new paths.

Quaker community is like this too - both supportive and challenging. Encountering the unknown is what allows community to grow and deepen - but it is seldom easy. I am someone happy in my own company but I know that I also need to make the effort to be part of a community. X for me is the unknown that allows me to balance these two impulses.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015-2017 - W for Anna Rebecca Gilpin Whiting

Cartoon of Charles Gilpin 1875
Anna Rebecca Gilpin was born in 1829, the daughter of James and Mary Sturge Gilpin of Bristol. She was the thirteenth of fifteen children in a family of eight boys and seven girls and her eldest brother was the politician Charles Gilpin, who served as M.P. for Northampton for many years, and was known for his opposition to capital punishment. Anna was educated at Wigton and Sidcot schools, a lively girl with a bright temperament which made her a general favourite although she admitted tht she sometimes gave her teachers trouble.

After leaving school she took up First-Day School work and while engaged on this she met John Whiting (1819-1899) a draper of Leeds. They were married in 1850 and had six children, two girls and four boys. On her marriage Anna also took over the domestic management of her husband's business, so that she had several young men under her care as well as her own children.

The welfare of children was very important to her so that, although she took a leading part in many philanthropic and social concerns in Leeds, the work that was nearest to her heart was the supervision of the Headingly Orphan Homes. When she took over this work in 1865, eight children were provided for, but it was extended until, in 1885, there were four houses sheltering seventy-six children.
Building once Headingly Orphan Homes

Elizabeth Comstock
Anna Whiting shared with her brother Charles and with her husband, who had taken the pledge at the age of eighteen, an enthusiastic advocacy of the cause of temperance. In 1873 and 1875 Anna visited various parts of the country in this connection, accompanying Elizabeth Comstock, a well known Quaker temperance campaigner visiting from America.

When Anna was twenty-five she felt a call to speak in meeting but did not minister until five years later, after much encouragement. She was recorded as a minister by Brighouse Monthly Meeting in 1869 and soon afterwards suffered a severe attack of typhoid which left her unconscious for ten days. Her first ministry after her recovery was remembered as very solemn and moving.

It was perhaps her own experience that led her to give unstinted personal service in ministering to the sick and dying in those days when trained nurses were seldom available. She rarely paid such visits without taking with her some flowers to cheer the patients and brighten the sick room. Her Christianity was practical, with a warm hearted kindness which endeared her to all who knew her.

It was said of her ministry that "her messages, delivered in a clear strong voice, and simple though forcible language...often brought 'food to the hungry soul, liberty to the captive, joy to the mourner and rest to the weary and heavy laden', and on not a few occasions the whole tone of a meeting, begun perhaps in something like flatness, was felt to be changed to joy through the inspiring influence of her offerings in prayer and praise."

She was warmly interested in the work of the Society of Friends and for thirty years, with only one omission, attended London Yearly Meeting. For fourteen years she was also conspicuous at the table of the London Womens Yearly Meeting, serving as clerk in 1881 and 1882.

In 1890 the family moved to Cliff Side, where she was very happy for the few years left to her. Although not in good health, she went to London with her husband early in March 1897 and joined him and other Friends in the Meeting for Sufferings room prior to the Mission Prayer Meeting for which he had come to London. But the following day she had a heart attack and died aged sixty-eight.