Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 30 - O for Opportunity

'Opportunity is not a lengthy visitor' says a character in Stephen Sondheim's Into the Woods but that has not always been true among Quakers!

In their journals and letters Quaker ministers often refer to their vocal ministry in meeting for worship as 'an opportunity' which they have faithfully taken advantage of. Such a meeting could be for other Quakers only or might be specially arranged in order to speak to 'the world's people.' For example Catherine Phillips visited Bath in 1750 and while there says ‘I was concerned to appoint a meeting for the strangers in town (it being the season for drinking the waters) to which some of them came, and it was a memorable opportunity, the power of truth being exalted to the reducing of their light and airy spirits, to some degree of solidity.'

Opportunities might also arise when Quakers gathered together in each others' homes. This might be done formally, when travelling ministers took on the task of visiting every Quaker family in a particular area, speaking to them individually, as couples or as whole family groups. Some ministers undertook hundreds of these visits in their travels. Informal opportunities might also occur during a social visit, often after a meal had been shared. Catherine Phillips was travelling to Yearly Meeting in Penrith in 1757 when ‘In our way we called upon that truly honourable mother in Israel, Grace Chambers, who was very ancient and had been long indisposed, with whom we were favoured with a refreshing opportunity.'

Sometimes an opportunity might arise between just two people. Ruth Follows tells the story of one of these which seemed unusual to her only because of its setting. In1783, travelling to Coalbrookdale with her friend Rebecca Reynolds, she says, ' In our travel on first-day, though much shaken with the rough and uneven road, we had a remarkably favoured opportunity, which in silence and testimony held more than two hours, and as such a season in a stage coach is not common, I thought fit to mention it.'  

These are just a few examples of Quaker 'opportunities' from the past, but do we experience anything like them today? I have known a group of Friends sitting together at a social gathering drop into a worshipful silence and I know that such 'opportunities' often happen during visits to sick or isolated Friends. Perhaps we might look upon our talks with visitors to our meeting houses, to exhibitions like the Quaker Tapestry or to events during Quaker Week as 'opportunities' too. Maybe our modern name for 'opportunity' could be another O in the Quaker alphabet - outreach?

As the quotation from Sondheim with which I began implies, opportunity has to be recognised and acted upon before it is lost for ever, and acting on it takes practice.  


Saturday, July 20, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 29 - O for Amelia Opie

Octagon Unitarian Chapel, Norwich
Amelia Alderson was born in 1769 in Norwich, the only child of John Alderson, a successful doctor and Unitarian who attended the Octagon chapel in the city. When her mother died in 1784 Amelia was fifteen and took charge of her father's household. She entered enthusiastically into local society among other dissenter families such as the Martineaus and the Gurneys and was very popular. The good-looking and high-spirited girl sang ballads of her own composition, gave dramatic recitations and published poems.

Silhouette of Amelia in 1790s
Amelia's political interests were stimulated by the French Revolution and her father's interest in the Norwich reform movement. In September 1794 Amelia contributed fifteen poems to The Cabinet, a periodical begun by that movement. Also in 1794 Amelia visited London where she discovered the excitement of attending the law courts, the spectacle and drama of which remained a compelling interest throughout her life. She widened her acquaintance in theatrical and radical circles, meeting the Kembles, Mrs Siddons and Mary Wollstonecraft, whom she particularly admired. She declared that everything she saw for the first time disappointed her except for Mary Wollstonecraft and the Cumberland lakes!

Mary Wollstonecraft by John Opie
It was in London too that she met the self-taught Cornish artist John Opie who was eight years older than herself. After a brief courtship she became his second wife in 1798. To support their household John gave up his prestigious historical and mythological painting for the more lucrative portraiture. He was more conventional that Amelia and, coming from a working-class background, was not always comfortable with her love of society but he encouraged her to write. Her novel Father and Daughter, about misled virtue and family reconciliation, which appeared in 1801, was a great success and Sir Walter Scott himself was moved to tears by it. Encouraged by Mary Wollstonecraft, Amelia followed this in 1804 with Adeline Mowbray, an exploration of the relationship between a mother and daughter.

Amelia Opie painted by her husband
Unfortunately Amelia's life in London came to a tragic end when her husband died in 1807 aged forty six of a fever probably made worse by overwork. Having no children she returned to live in her father's house and participate in Norwich society. She continued with her writing but also renewed her early friendship with the wealthy Quaker Gurney family, especially with Joseph John Gurney, the leading evangelical Friend. Although nearly twenty years younger than Amelia, he was a great influence on her.

She began attending Quaker meetings in 1814 and gradually became convinced that here, rather than in the Unitarianism of her upbringing, was the vital religion that she sought. In 1820 her father fell ill and she nursed him until his death five years later. Throughout this time the Gurneys were a great support to them and Dr Alderson fully approved Amelia's application for membership which was accepted two months before his death, so much so that he was himself buried in the Quaker burial ground at Gildencroft.

There were certain changes that Amelia undertook when she became a Quaker at the age of fifty six. The chief of these was that she gave up novel writing and afterwards wrote only upon serious, factual and moral subjects. She also adopted the Quaker plain speech and plain dress, but with a style of her own. Emma Marshall remembers that her Quaker bonnet was small and perched somewhat coquettishly on her head, and the train of her silk gown made a 'swish' upon the matting as she came into meeting.

Amelia Opie in Quaker dress
Amelia now spent much of her time in works of charity. Influenced by her friend Joseph John Gurney's sister, Elizabeth Gurney Fry, she visited prisons, hospitals and workhouses. She also gave unobtrusive material assistance to her friends and especially to fellow writers such as Mary Russell Mitford. She was much concerned with the Bible Society and the Anti-slavery Society and in 1840 attended the Anti-slavery Convention in London.

Amelia was financially comfortable and able to travel widely, always delighting in the company of others from whatever level of society they came. She was an inveterate correspondent, often writing more than six letters a day. Every year she came to London to attend the Yearly Meeting. As she said in 1843, 'Yearly Meeting has engrossed me much as usual, for I never missed one sitting since I obtained the great privilege of belonging to it '. This record remained unbroken for nearly thirty years until ill-health prevented her attendance.

Amelia Opie's house on Castle Meadow, Norwich
Until almost the end of her life she retained her love of fun, her merry laugh and ready repartee. At the age of eighty-two, confined by rheumatism to a wheelchair, she visited the Great Exhibition and meeting there her friend Miss Berry, similarly transported, playfully proposed that they should have chair race. The last years of Amelia's life were spent in a house on Castle Meadow in Norwich on the corner of a small alley now known as Opie Street. She died at the age of 84 in December 1853 and was buried next to her father in Gildencroft.

Amelia Opie's life was full of contrasts and she sometimes appeared a rather worldly Friend, but coming to Quakerism at a later age she valued the Society highly and tried her best to live up to its standards. Perhaps her friend the poet Robert Southey put it best when he said that she embraced Quakerism 'not losing in the change her warmth of heart and cheerfulness of spirit, nor gaining by it any increase of sincerity and frankness, for with these nature had endued her and society, even of the great, had not corrupted them.'

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Quaker Alphabet blog Week 28 - N for Nominations

I have been hesitating over this post, wondering what to include, but now that my fellow Quaker Alphabet blogger Rhiannon has written her piece this week on Nominations I can content myself with recounting my own experience and filling in some gaps!

Rhiannon has never been on a nominations committee - I have been on rather a lot and of different kinds. I have helped to look for nominations for various jobs at Local and Area Meeting level, for elders and overseers, for Yearly Meeting appointments and for particular Quaker groups.

In some ways the nominating experience is the same and in other ways it changes with circumstances. The most important task of a nominating committee is to discern who might be the right person to ask to undertake a piece of work. This is not necessarily the same as looking for someone who already has the right skill-set or who has done the same sort of job before. Discernment is about looking for possibilities in a person, for their 'qualifications' for the role which may be more to do with their personality or life-experience than with their professional or academic standing. From the other side of the fence I know that I might not have been the person I would have nominated to do some of the things I have been asked to do by Friends but I also know that I have (usually) been surprised by what I have discovered about myself and others by doing them.

Of course this kind of discernment is easier when the nominations committee knows the people it is asking well. When this is not the case, as often in a larger group such as a whole Yearly Meeting, then of course it is necessary to ask people to say what their experience and interests are and Britain Yearly Meeting has a system of 'yellow forms' for this purpose. I do have a small stop in my mind about these forms however, in case nominations committees feel that they can only nominate those who have filled in forms or only to those jobs which follow the 'applicant's' experience and wishes to the letter. I am afraid that I have still never filled in a yellow form myself!

Being on a nominations committee can be interesting and exhilarating, but it can also be depressing and frustrating. The depressing side comes from the frequent refusals (often for perfectly valid reasons) that one hears. Frustration, in my experience, comes from a lack of understanding of the nominations process. Nominations committees do not appoint, they only nominate to the meeting that has directed them to find names. I have lost count of the times that Friends have assumed that having been asked they are appointed and if they are not then appointed vent their frustration on the nominations committee!

In the end both nominating and accepting nomination are about service and we can all only do the best we can with God's help. After all as Beatrice Saxon Snell reminds us (QF&P 12.08) 'My dear, we have to take what we can get.'

Monday, July 08, 2013

Quaker Alphabet blog Week 27 - N for Henry Stanley Newman

Henry Stanley Newman in 1870
Henry Newman was born in Liverpool in 1837, the only son of Josiah Newman and Harriet Wood. Henry was educated at Bootham School in York and his mother died when he was 14. His father set up a grocery business in Leominster, Herefordshire and Henry began to work there in 1858. He married Mary Ann Pumphry in 1863 and they had six children, three girls and three boys. After his marriage Henry adopted the name Stanley to distinguish himself from his uncle. 

Henry was a constant and active attender of Quaker meetings for discipline. He was universally known at Yearly Meeting and was clerk of his Monthly Meeting for over twenty years. He was recorded as a minister in 1869 and took a large part in the series of Tent (or Mission) meetings held in the district which led to the rapid growth of Leominster and surrounding meetings. He was aware of the changes taking place in the Society of Friends in his time with a growth in numbers of convinced, sometimes working class, members and the falling away of the sons and daughters of old Quaker families. He was concerned that these new members should be educated in Quakerism and welcomed moves to broaden the appeal of the Society, like the Manchester conference of 1895 as helpful.

Henry Stanley Newman in later life
Although Henry lived in the same small town for most of his life he was engaged with the wider world. He was much involved in mission world-wide as well as locally and was secretary for many years of the Friends Foreign Mission Association. He faithfully attended meetings in London even though this meant a five hour train journey from Leominster. He also travelled farther afield and visited missions in India in 1880-1881 and Pemba in 1897. From 1888 to 1890 he travelled in America visiting all the Yearly Meetings, both Orthodox and Hicksite.

Henry was also very involved with local causes. He was one of the founders of Leominster Adult School and was leader of the Leominster Men's School for 54 years. In 1869 he founded the Leominster Orphan Homes in two houses under one roof in Ryelands Road, one for boys and one for girls, with a total capacity of about 40. Orphans under the age of ten were admitted irrespective of creed, cared for and educated to be useful members of society.

Orphans Printing Press in Leominster
In 1873 Henry established the Orphans Printing Press in Leominster with three aims - to generate money to support the Orphan Homes, to provide an industrial training for at least some of the orphans in its care and to publish materials which would act as a force for good. A gas powered press valued at £100 was installed and the children set to work for three hours each morning, continuing their lessons in the afternoon. By 1874 Henry noted that 'there seems to be a more healthy tone about them, now they feel they are earning their own bread and learning a useful trade'. Even when, in a few years, Parliament prohibited the employment of children, several of the orphans were employed by the printing press when they were old enough.

The Friend in 1901
In the later part of his life  Henry Stanley Newman was an enthusiastic and energetic editor of The Friend. He took up the post when he retired from business at the age of 54 in 1892, changed the journal from a monthly to a weekly publication and oversaw its printing in Leominster at the Orphans Printing Press. Although The Friend in his time certainly reflected his interests in mission and in education he was broad in his sympathies and his editorship helped to keep British Quakerism united during a critical period. He died, still editor of The Friend, in Leominster on 23rd October 1912 aged 75.


Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog - Week 26 - M for Katharine Moore

Katharine Moore in 1989
Katharine Moore was one of the most inspirational teachers I have ever encountered. I sat in the front row of her lessons on Blake and Jane Austen when I was 16 or 17 and felt my mind almost physically stretched by her erudition and enthusiasm. She spoke to her pupils on equal terms and demanded an equal engagement in return. At the time I did not know anything about her life or that she was a Quaker but over the years I learned more about this extraordinary woman. I am glad that many years later I wrote her a letter acknowledging my debt of gratitude and this blog post is a way of continuing that.

Una Katharine Yeo was born in 1898 in Reigate, Surrey. Her father, a rigorous Presbyterian, worked in London in insurance. In her memoir Queen Victoria is very ill (1988) Katharine summarises the religious atmosphere in which she was brought up. 'God and Jesus . . . roughly corresponded to my father and mother. God and my father were all-powerful and all-knowing: they gave orders and had to be obeyed; sometimes they shouted. My father could not shout so loudly as God when it thundered, but he had a good try. Jesus and my mother never shouted, and they loved me whatever I did, though they too liked to be obeyed.' 

Lady Margaret Hall today
However certain he was of his own beliefs Katharine's father was not narrow minded when it came to his daughter's education. She was sent to Wycombe Abbey school and from there her father encouraged her to gain a place at Oxford in the first exhilarating period of women's acceptance as full members of the university. Katharine spent three very happy years (1918-1921) reading English at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford inspired by teachers such as Janet Spens, the Elizabethan scholar, Walter Raleigh, first Oxford professor of English literature, and Gilbert Murray, regius professor of Greek. 

Her degree equipped Katharine for her future work as a teacher and writer and a short interlude after university, working in the Lady Margaret Hall Settlement in Lambeth, was an eyeopener about poverty for a middle-class girl. Very shortly afterwards, however, Katharine's time was to be fully taken up by different responsibilities. In 1922, she married Dr Harold Moore, a widower twenty years her senior with three young girls, and soon she herself had twins, Jane and Christopher, for whom she wrote her first children's book, Moog, in 1936, with illustrations by Jane. This was followed by a series of educational books for children. Her marriage was very happy and her husband - later a CBE and the first president of the Institution of Metallurgists - continued the supportive tradition of the men in her family. 

Walthamstow Hall school
In her 30s Katharine Moore discovered Quakerism and with it a belief in a gentler, more compassionate God than that epitomised by her father. As her children grew older she looked for employment and in 1943 was offered a part-time teaching post at Walthamstow Hall school for girls in Sevenoaks, Kent where the family then lived. She wrote an account of her wartime experiences in another memoir A Family Life 1939-45 published in 1989. After the war she was offered a full-time post at Walthamstow Hall and remained there until her retirement (and afterwards when she returned to teach one day a week and I was one of her pupils).

In 1947 Katharine and Harold's son Christopher, then 23, was drowned in a holiday accident. Katharine spoke of the terrible loss as dividing her life in two, but she strove for, and ultimately attained, the goal of turning suffering to good account, gaining a depth of understanding of other people's tragedies. She was very busy with her family but always found time for teaching, reading and writing - the life of the mind balanced with domestic life.

Joyce Grenfell
In 1957, in answer to a perceived slight to her beloved Oxford professor, Walter Raleigh, Katherine Moore wrote to the entertainer Joyce Grenfell and this began a 22-year pen friendship which ended only with Joyce's death in 1979. They agreed never to meet in order to express themselves with greater freedom and this resulted in an unusually satisfying exchange of ideas, the record of an extraordinary companionship of minds, particularly in spiritual and religious matters. As it went on the correspondence did contain personal matters too, especially after the death of Katharine's husband Harold in 1972. Some of their letters were published in 1981 under the title An Invisible Friendship.

Katharine Moore's first book for adult readers, influenced by her Quakerism, was an anthology, The Spirit of Tolerance, commissioned by Victor Gollancz in 1964. The titles and subjects of Katharine's later non-fiction books reflect her preoccupation with women's need for independence and her religious development - Cordial Relations: The Maiden Aunt In Fact And Fiction (1966); Victorian Wives (1974); and She For God: Aspects Of Women And Christianity (1978). 

 As she grew older Katharine continued to develop her writing and thinking. She published her first novel,Summer at the Haven (1983), set in an old people's home with an old lady as its central character, at the age of 85 and received the Authors' Club Silver Quill Award for the most promising first novel of 1984. Her unusual subject came from her own experience - old age and its unacknowledged fears, pleasures and trials - and another two novels on the same theme followed, The Lotus House (1984) and Moving House (1986). Critics were enthusiastic, comparing her to Elizabeth Gaskell, and she gained a devoted following among readers of all ages. After her three full-length novels, she produced a witty and humane collection of short stories, Six Gentle Criminals (1990), and an exercise in historical recreation, A Particular Glory (1994) the fictional biography of Damaris, daughter of John Wesley's friend and mentor Vincent Perronet, vicar of Shoreham, Kent, where Katharine lived. 

Katharine Moore remained always involved with life, family, friends, Quakers and the life of the mind, living on until 2001 when she died at the age of 103. "I never had much time for old people," she said in her later years, "so, perhaps, this long life is God teaching me a lesson." Her whole life was a lesson to those who read her books, were inspired by her teaching or knew her as a friend and I am grateful to have been one of that number.