Thursday, January 29, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015 - B for William Charles Braithwaite

W.C. Braithwaite
William Charles Braithwaite was born in Camden, London on 23 December 1862, eighth of the nine children of Joseph Bevan Braithwaite and Martha Gillett. He was a pretty child, 'very fair, with a captivating smile, his golden hair arranged in one long curl on the top of his head', and was doted on by his older sisters. He showed an early love of books and learned to read when he was three.

William was brought up in a close, contented Quaker family but had little contact with others of his own age. Both his parents travelled in the ministry and were often away from home, but their absences were accepted as normal. William grew particularly close to his father with whom he shared a love of study.

William was educated at home until he was eleven when he was sent away to Quaker schools, first in Weston-super-Mare and then in Scarboroough. Leaving school at seventeen, William went to University College London, graduating in 1881. He was active in sport but also in the Bunhill Adult School and the Friends Christian Fellowship Union.

J.B. Braithwate, William's father
William next turned his attention to the law, studying mostly at home or in his father's chambers. After qualifying in 1887 William lived at home and worked for ten years with his father in his conveyancing practice at Lincoln's Inn, a happy arrangement for them both. William explored London, studied, wrote poetry and did peace work with his uncle and neighbour, George Gillett.

His friend George Newman, who met him at this time, says he was 'a reserved, imperturbable man, of quiet but exceptional power...He never failed you. He was circumspect, seeing all sides and sympathizing with many...possessing a delightful sense of humour and a well-developed faculty of imagination.'

William's life changed in 1896 when he became engaged to Janet Morland and accepted the offer of a partnership in Gillett's Bank in Banbury, Oxfordshire. He had to give up the legal profession and move away from home, but banking gave him a more settled income and more leisure for study and for his work with the Society of Friends.

Banbury Quaker Meeting House in 1910s
He settled happily in Banbury with Janet and the couple had four children, three boys and a girl. There was a shift in attitude towards family life from one generation to another. William's father had encouraged his children to join him in his study, but had expected them to do so in absolute quiet. In contrast it was a source of wonder to William's friends how he could calmly collate an ancient manuscript or prepare an Adult School lesson while his small children played around the room, asking questions and demanding his help in their games.

As well as his other interests William became involved in public life in Banbury. He was a magistrate from 1906 until his death and chairman of the Education Committee for many years. He was also very involved with the local Quaker school, Sibford.

John Wilhelm Rowntree
William was much influenced by his friendship with John Wilhelm Rowntree who he had met at Yearly Meeting 1893. They shared a belief in the need for education for Friends and for strengthening the Society and developing its ministry. One of John Wilhelm's projects was the writing of a standard history of Quakerism and he had begun collecting thousands of books and pamphlets for the necessary research when he died suddenly and unexpectedly in 1905. William took up the project and worked on it in his leisure time for the next fourteen years. He sometimes became so absorbed in the work 'that he seemed to be living in the seventeenth century, far removed from the events that were passing around him.' The Beginnings of Quakerism and The Second Period of Quakerism were completed in 1919 and have not yet been surpassed.

At the beginning of 1922 several of William's long-term projects were nearing completion. The histories had been finished eighteen months earlier, the new Yearly Meeting Book of Discipline, which William was much concerned with compiling, had been agreed and Gilletts Bank had been amalgamated with Barclays after negotiations in which William had taken a major role.

In the last week of January William ministered at Banbury Meeting, took a leading part in a conference on Ministry in Oxford, began a series of Adult School evening talks and worked in the bank. On Friday he felt unwell but went to London by the early train to attend an educational meeting. He became much worse and only just managed to get to Paddington and onto the train home. He arrived in Banbury in a state of collapse, sank into a diabetic coma and died the next day, 28 January 1922, aged fifty nine.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2015 - A for Alphabet Again

As I have found the discipline of following the alphabet through the year helpful I have decided to continue with it into 2015.

I'm intending to post alphabetically at the same rate as in 2014, once every two weeks or as near to that as I can manage. I want to continue my Quaker biographical posts, introducing some less well known Friends, but I will throw in some other alphabetic posts as before.

If I have other things to say I will slip them into my blog without the Quaker Alphabet heading.

I shall continue to put up links to my own and others' posts on the Facebook page for Quaker Alphabet Blog 2014 and beyond but I am also intending to use Twitter [@gilskidmore] more to spread the word.

I hope, dear reader, that you will find something to interest and engage you here in the coming year and I hope that you will tell me what you think.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2014 - Z for Zzzzz (Sleeping in Meeting)

The possibility of falling asleep during meeting for worship has been seen as something to be guarded against from the early days of the Quaker movement. As early as 1656 George Fox writes in one of his epistles, 'All Friends everywhere take heed of slothfulness and sleeping in your meetings, for in so doing you may be bad examples to others'.

One charitable excuse given by a modern commentator for being overtaken by sleep is that 'Drowsiness at these meetings may have arisen from people who led physically active lives, usually outdoors or in unheated rooms, having an opportunity to sit at ease in a room which was probably heated by a fireplace'. Perhaps another reason was that they, like the young Samuel Bownas in the late 1690s, were at meeting because it was expected of them rather than because of their own conviction.

Throughout the 18th century travelling ministers and other 'weighty Friends' urged Quakers to guard against sleep both for their own sake and to avoid giving a bad impression to others. A letter written to New Jersey Friends in 1704 advises 'Friends all take heed of sleeping, sottishness and dullness in Meetings for it is an illsavoury thing to see one sit nodding in a Meeting,and so to lose the sense of the Lord and shamefacedness both; and it grieveth the upright and watchful, that wait upon the Lord, to see such things, and for the Priests, people and others that come into your Meetings, to see you that come together to worship God and wait upon him, to have fellowship in His Spirit, for you to sit nodding is a shame and unseemly thing.’

In 1776 Catherine Payton Phillips, writing to Friends in Ireland after travelling among them, condemns drowsiness in meeting in no uncertain terms but also suggests a remedy. 'It is not improbable that the drowsiness beforementioned may, in some, proceed from eating and drinking more than nature requires; this most certainly unfits the mind for spiritual exercises; for, when the body is still, the mind sinks into rest. Under this consideration, it becomes the duty of all to watch, lest their table becomes a snare to them, and wine and strong drink be so indulged in their feasts, as to unfit them for Communion with God, and the participation of the New Wine of his Kingdom. And, young People should, especially, be careful not to indulge themselves in the use of much wine, etc. lest the prevelance of custom grow upon them as they advance in years.'

Is sleeping in meeting something which we should still worry about today? It certainly still happens as we relax in our usually well-heated meeting rooms. Indeed Ben Pink Dandelion in his 1986 book The Quakers; a Very Short Introduction states ‘In terms of the inward, studies show that Friends are engaged in many different kinds of activity, often in parallel or tandem in any one Meeting. They may be praying or praising or seeking communion or guidance, thinking or sleeping.'  

So is sleep just one of our options or should we guard against it? Perhaps if we look upon this drowsiness as a metaphor as well as an actuality it might help us to address the question. As Jacob Ritter, a 19th century minister, put it, 'Friends, we must try to keep one another awake, or else we shall lose the life. To lose the life would be losing everything; the life is more than meat, and the body than raiment.'

Friday, January 09, 2015

Quaker Alphabet Blog 2014 - Y for Yes

'Yes' was what I said when I started writing Quaker Alphabet blog posts back in 2013. I needed a prompt to keep me writing and the alphabetical discipline has been good for me and has led me into some unexpected subject areas.

In life and among Friends I have often fallen into the trap of saying 'Yes' to too many things. I have been so happy to be asked that I have often taken on too much and have sometimes become overwhelmed and failed to fulfill my obligations.

For a long time my remedy for this condition was to learn to say 'No', to pause for thought before I made any commitment and to look honestly at what I could manage and at the direction I felt my Inward Guide to be pushing me in.

So far, so good. But now I am looking at the whole question again in a different way. In a new place and learning to fit in to a new community I began by holding back, not wanting to appear to push myself forward. Opportunities arose and I began saying 'Yes' again but, more importantly, I have decided to go forward in a positive way. From now on I will look for the 'Yes' I can say, however small that 'Yes' may be, and stop worrying about saying 'No' sometimes.