Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Quaker Alphabet Blog Week 50 - Y for Yearly Meeting

I can almost echo Amelia Opie when 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 '. I have certainly attended almost every sitting of Britain Yearly Meeting since I joined Friends in 1980 but in fact my first experience of Yearly Meeting was not as a member.

D Elton Trueblood
In 1975 I was working in Friends House Library and attended Yearly Meeting as a member of staff (with a red name badge to mark me out as I remember it). We were very busy attending to enquiries from Friends from all over the country and indeed all over the world. It was a great opportunity to get an impression of the wide variety of Quakers and to see them 'warts and all.' I particularly remember a visit from the weighty American Friend D.Elton Trueblood who stunned us with his parting remark as he left the library - "Now I must go and meet some real people"!

Edward H. [Ted] Milligan
The library closed when YM was in session and the librarian, the redoubtable Ted Milligan, encouraged us to go into the meeting where we sat together in specially allocated seats. As I was so new to Quakers and Quakerism he kindly sat beside me and explained what was going on and who people were. I particularly remember an elderly woman Friend dressed in a striking black hat and cloak and sitting in the front row  - Sybil White, then in her late eighties. I learned a lot about friends' eccentricities but was also inspired by their good sense and commitment.

Sybil White at YM 1978
But it was not just the people that drew me back to Yearly Meeting and into membership of the Religious Society of Friends. It was the experience, which amazed me then and continues to amaze me now, of a very large room full of noisy, opinionated, talkative people dropping all at once into silent worship. It was the power of that worship and the depth of vocal ministry that sometimes arose from it that reached me then and continues  - not in every meeting certainly but in enough - to reach me now.

I wish that more Friends would look outside their local meetings and take the opportunity to attend Yearly Meeting. Of course it is good to meet Friends from other meetings - as early Friends put it 'to see one anothers faces'- and to get a sense of the variety of Quakers. But it is by worshipping together, in such a large and diverse group as well as in our familiar surroundings, that we can reach for and find the Light that binds us all together in unity in spite of our outward differences.

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