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.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015-2017 - V for Verses

As I said in a much earlier post, Friends in the past have felt ambivalent about both reading and writing poetry. Some, like Mary Southworth Mollineux, did write in this form but only on serious subjects and they hesitated to publish their work widely or under their own name.

In the 18th century poetry was often copied by Friends into commonplace books for their own use. This might be written by Quakers but works such as James Thomson's The Seasons were also popular. As the century progressed a few Friends ventured into the public domain with their poetry. In 1794 Catherine Payton Phillips published The Happy King; a sacred poem which was addressed to George III. The main subject of the poem is to urge the monarch to do away with slavery and was part of mainstream Quaker campaigning at this time. In her Memoirs Catherine states that when she became a minister she stopped any reading other than the Bible, but perhaps towards the end of her life she allowed herself more latitude, as her poem is very much in the contemporary style.

In later times many Friends wrote poetry and even published it, although like W. C. Braithwaite's volume it was often referred to, self-deprecatingly, as Verses. There were Quaker poets, such as the Americans Walt Whitman and John Greenleaf Whittier but it was only in the 20th century that this became an acceptable description in the UK. Poets who are Quakers do not always identify as Quaker poets but a modern anthology has recently been published. A Speaking Silence; Quaker poets of today came out in 2013 and was advertised as the first of its kind for over a hundred years.

So what is the difference between poetry and verses? Is one more serious than the other? There is certainly a continuing tradition of both forms appearing in local newsletters and blogs and both are now equally acceptable. I would like to end this post with an extract from a verse published in 2007 by the Sheffield Quaker Simon Heywood which is part of another tradition - verse which pokes fun at the idiosyncrasies of Friends - usually in a loving spirit.


I'm a lonely little Quaker
and I'm feeling very small.
I'm the clerk of Monthly Meeting
and there's no-one here at all.
I've got all the minutes drafted
and I'm ready with my pen
but the sense of Monthly Meeting
is they've stayed at home again...

If it wasn't for the Quakers
in the Quaker burial ground
then I'd be the only Quaker
for a hundred miles around,
for the buses stop at seven
and there's something on TV
and this month it's nominations
and there's no-one here but me.
I could minute they're prevented
but they never said what by.
I'm a lonely little Quaker
and I think I want to cry.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015-2017 - U for Undercliffe

Undercliffe House was the home of John and Christiana Hustler of Bradford and their family. John was born in 1715 to Quaker parents in Bolton. His father was a farmer but also a wool merchant and John served an apprenticeship as a woolsorter and stapler. The family business flourished during the 1740s and John was very active as a merchant in Bradford, dealing not only in wool and worsted cloth but in coal, some from his own mines. He became very prosperous and lived at Bolton Hall, part of whose grounds became what is now Peel Park.

In 1763, when he was 48 years old and well established, John married Christiana Hird, aged 31, a minister and the daughter of another prosperous Quaker. They moved into Undercliffe House which John had built in a healthier situation than Bolton Hall, further up the hill above the city. It was a large establishment and Christiana made it a home for their six children and a place of hospitality for many visiting Quaker travelling ministers.

John was very influential in transforming Bradford into a modern city. He was a prime mover in opening out Bradford centre, building the Piece Hall and suggesting the construction of New (now Market) Street. In modern times his contribution was recognised by naming a street, Hustlergate, after him. He was also a leading promoter of the Leeds and Liverpool and later the Bradford canals, known at that time as 'the navigation'.

This business often took him to London where, according to one fellow visitor to Dr Fothergill's house, he could talk of nothing else. Betsy Fothergill confided to her diary '[we were] entertained in the manner I expected - the course of rivers, the situation of hills, etc etc - and in short, "the Navigation" spun out into its different branches, was the continued subject. It is a common maxim that extremes can never last but J Hustler is an exception to this general rule, for he has continued the pursuit of this favourite scheme for near two years past, with an ardour that rather strengthens than declines.'

Joseph Wood
While John travelled on business Christiana remained at Undercliffe and dispensed generous hospitality to Quaker  visitors. Joseph Wood came to stay the night in 1774 and says 'John was gone from home but his Wife was remarkable, open, free, so that we spent the evening very agreeably together, and she having just received a Letter from her brother Benjamin Hird who was then on a religious visit to friends in Scotland was so kind as to read it to me which was very comfortable...' 

As her children grew Christiana felt free to travel in the ministry not only locally but further afield. In the 1780s Christiana accompanied Rebecca Jones on her travels around the country but they often returned to Undercliffe for periods of rest and recuperation. In 1788 on her return to America Rebecca fondly remembered 'that hospitable retreat called Undercliffe, where I have been often received, kindly cared for and tenderly treated, far beyond my deserts.'

John died in 1790 and Christiana in 1811 and they were both buried in the Quaker burial ground in the city centre. Undercliffe passed to their sons but eventually the house was demolished and the estate sold. In 1851, as part of a national campaign to remove graveyards from city centres where they were becoming a health hazard, 26 acres of the estate were acquired by the Bradford Cemetery Company and Undercliffe Cemetery was established.
Removals stone showing John and Christiana Hustler
 The cemetery was divided between anglicans and non-conformists and was run as a commercial enterprise. The first interment took place in 1854 and then in 1855 an Order in Council closed many of the overcrowded central burial grounds, including the old Quaker graveyard. The Society of Friends purchased a small section at the back of the newly opened cemetery and re-interred the disturbed remains, including those of John and Christiana Hustler, in one large grave. This and subsequent graves were marked with uniform stones laid flat on the ground, a contrast to the many lofty and elaborate monuments surrounding them.

Undercliffe cemetery




Thursday, January 12, 2017

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015-2017 - T for Truth

In these days of post-truth and bare-faced lies in public discourse I am convinced that it is more than ever important for Friends to stand firm in their testimony for the truth in whatever form that manifests itself.

When I went to work in Friends House Library in London and first consciously encountered Quakers, one of the things which most impressed me was the carefulness with which my questions were answered. I was often required to wait while a sufficiently truthful answer was thought about and given and I learned to love that weighty pause.

I learned to be careful in my own speech, not always to say the first thing that came into my head and to be as accurate as I could be. Knowing that this carefulness and respect for the truth was a basic testimony of Quakerisn made it more attractive to me.


Another part of the testimony to truth and also to equality showed itself through not using titles, but calling oneself and others just by name. There were some problems with this at work and with banks etc. but I persevered. Respect can be shown in other ways than in using the 'vain titles of the world' for as Fox put it 'True civility stands in truth'.

We may have different views of the truth, especially when exploring our spiritual lives, and those different views deserve respect. Listening with an open mind and expecting to be listened to in the same way are both ways of finding truth and can bring us closer together in that true civility.

Telling the truth and being careful not to repeat lies that are maskerading as truth are both vitally important to me. That was true before I became a Friend but it is even more so now. Whatever the accepted norms of the wider society may become I know that Truth matters and I shall continue to try to speak truth to power as well as in my everyday life.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015-2017 - S for Job Scott

Job Scott was born in 1751 at Providence, Rhode Island, the eldest child of Quakers John and Lydia Scott. His mother died when he was ten and from the age of fifteen he says that he got into loose company, learned to dance and delighted in playing cards. He later felt a need for religion but was more drawn to the Baptists than the Quakers. As he said, 'Friends meetings were oftener held in silence than suited my itching ear. I loved to hear words, began to grow inquisitive...and the Baptist preachers filled my ears with words and my head with arguments and distinctions, but my heart was little or not at all improved by them.'

Moses Brown
Eventually he returned to Friends, was convinced and appeared as a minister in 1774 at the age of twenty three. At this time he was employed as a school teacher and also worked as a tutor to the children of Moses Brown, whose wife had recently died. Moses came from a Baptist family but was impressed by Job's example and eventually became a Quaker. The two men worked together for the causes of abolition and peace.


In 1780 Job Scott married Eunice Anthony and the couple had six children. Job was often away from home travelling widely in the ministry and sometimes wrote encouraging poems for his wife to read while he was away. His early experience taught him to be wary of speaking too much in his ministry at home and he frequently felt himself required to give an example of silence when visiting elsewhere.

It is possible that Job also practised as a doctor, although this may have been more of an amateur interest. In a letter written at the end of his life he directs that neither of his sons should be encouraged to become physicians and that his medical books should be disposed of. He speaks with feeling of the dangers of going beyond a little general knowledge of medicine, getting out of one's depth and meddling in dangerous cases.

In 1791 his wife died and in 1792 Job felt called to travel in the ministry to Europe. At the end of that year he set sail from Boston and eventually landed in France at Dunkirk where he met with Robert Grubb, an Irish Friend. From there Job went to England, holding meetings in Kent before proceeding to London and then on to Welsh Yearly Meeting in Carmarthen. Next he went to Bristol and back to London for Yearly Meeting there.

Ballitore Meeting House
Job then travelled to Liverpool and took ship for Ireland, visiting many meetings in that country before attending the national Half Years Meeting in Dublin. He was taken ill with smallpox while staying at the house of Elizabeth Shackleton at Ballitore and in spite of all that doctors and nursing care could do he died in November 1793 at the age of forty-two and was laid to rest in the Quaker graveyard there.

A few years after his death Job Scott's edited journal of his travels in the ministry was published.  Later in the 19th century a fuller version and the rest of Job's writing was published by the Hicksites in an attempt to claim him posthumously as one of their own. The Evangelical faction certainly found Job's writing, with its emphasis on waiting in silence for the promptings of the Inward Light, unsound in doctrine. However the journal, with its reflections on the religious life and on the proper upbringing of children, was very influential and remained popular. Indeed, along with John Woolman, Job Scott is one of the few representatives of 18th century Quakerism to be found in Britain Yearly Meeting's Quaker Faith and Practice.